A new bill intends to expand the availability of telehealth coverage through Medicare for telephone calls exclusively including audio.

The Permanency for Audio-Only Telehealth Act will see treatment facilities using audio-only devices for diagnosis and management activities, as well as psychiatric and behavioral health services with reimbursement provided by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). It would also remove the geographic limitation on CMS as an audio-only telehealth delivery site at the patient’s residence.

The bill targets a widespread process before the coronavirus pandemic that had been previously restricted for care providers. With COVID-19 declining in-person care and bringing more services into the associated health space, the audio-only tool has been utilized for multiple treatment urgencies for both physicians and patients.

It also addresses a few barriers to treatment in underserved communities and countries: the lack of adequate access to the Internet to allow audio-visual telemedicine technology and the lack of support for the provision of telehealth facilities.

In the wake of the pandemic, restrictions to expand access to telehealth have been eased by CMS and some states, even by audio-only telephones, but these emergency measures will fail when the public health emergency ends.

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