HAP's Latest News

HAP and Pennsylvania’s Health Care Community Ask Lawmakers to Continue Telehealth Flexibilities after Pandemic Ends

April 27, 2021

HAP, WellSpan Health, and Pennsylvania’s health care community today urged state lawmakers to continue the COVID-19 regulatory flexibilities that have ensured safe access to care and to build off the outstanding innovations in telehealth during the past year.

Throughout the pandemic, hospitals and health systems have transformed to meet the needs of their patients, particularly when it comes to telehealth, said David Vega, MD, MBA, senior vice president and chief medical officer at WellSpan Health.

“State-level telehealth waivers have empowered us to meet the challenge of COVID-19 head on, and to strengthen our commitment to providing our patients with the care that they need when, where, and how they want it,” Dr. Vega said during a hearing before the House Republican Policy Committee, “and we think the results speak for themselves.”

During March 2020, Pennsylvania significantly expanded the use of telehealth services—giving patients access to telehealth appointments from their homes through video and audio technology—and increasing the list of providers who are able to see patients virtually. The state also provided comparable reimbursement for care offered via telehealth settings.

At WellSpan, the waivers and flexibilities had immediate benefits to help patients stay connected to their care, Dr. Vega said. The health system’s providers conducted 35,000 video visits from mid-March 2020 to mid-April 2020, up from just 47 video visits during the previous 30-day period, and patients have strongly endorsed continuing video visits after the pandemic ends.

Among the key takeaways from the hearing:

  • Expanded use of telehealth during the pandemic has offered significant benefits, particularly in behavioral health. These flexibilities have helped patients receive care wherever they are and helped address staffing challenges in rural areas
  • Sustainable reimbursement models are needed to build off the progress in telehealth
  • Staffing and licensure flexibilities have protected the health care workforce and allowed health care facilities to respond quickly to public health emergencies
  • Streamlined data reporting to state and federal agencies can relieve administrative burden and ensure consistent reporting

Pennsylvania needs a coordinated transition to address the state’s COVID-19 waivers and flexibilities after the pandemic ends, said Stephanie Watkins, HAP’s vice president, state legislative advocacy.

“HAP strongly believes that any return to pre-COVID practices within health care should be made with caution and deliberation to avoid confusion and maintain a seamless transition,” Watkins said.

HAP will continue to advocate for Pennsylvania’s hospitals and health systems as lawmakers discuss the next steps for COVID-19 waivers and flexibilities. These enhanced flexibilities have played an important role to ensure safe care during the pandemic and will continue to benefit patients and providers after the pandemic ends.

HAP supports legislative initiatives, such as House Bill 1011, that would retain these waivers and flexibilities after the pandemic.

For more information, contact Stephanie Watkins, HAP’s vice president, state legislative advocacy.