Bill Would Force Government to Study Telehealth Use During Pandemic

Rep. Robin Kelly

Rep. Robin Kelly House Television via AP

The Health and Human Services Department would collect data nationwide to determine how telehealth fared during COVID-19.

As the coronavirus spread across the country, federal and state governments relaxed restrictions during the public health emergency on the use of telehealth, providing additional means for patients to receive health care without risking their safety.

Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., wants the federal government to commission a wide-ranging study on the technology to inform Congress on telehealth’s pros, cons and overall effectiveness before the relaxed telehealth policies are rolled back.

The Evaluating Disparities and Outcomes of Telehealth During the COVID-19 Emergency Act of 2020, which Kelly introduced Monday, would direct the Health and Human Services secretary to gather nationwide data on the number of telehealth visits, the health care facilities providing telehealth services, what services patients received and other data points.

Kelly, whose husband is a medical doctor caring for patients remotely during COVID-19, told Nextgov Monday she believes the technology is understudied and that more data could better inform Congress—and potentially future policy decisions.

“Data and information and research informs policy and resources, and that’s what we’re trying to do—gather as much information and really study the issue quickly before CMS regulations do run out,” Kelly added in a statement.

The data would be collected “no later than one year” after the public health emergency ends, according to the bill, and would be submitted to House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees and the Senate Finance Committee.

At the federal level, the use of telehealth services has expanded significantly since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a health crisis, though data is limited. In a press call in late May, officials at the Defense Health Agency confirmed health care providers had implemented telehealth but did not provide specific data points.  In March, the Veterans Affairs Department indicated telehealth services jumped by more than 200% from February for some kinds of health care.  

Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Terri Sewell, D-Ala., Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., Donald Payne, Jr., D-N.J., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas and Michael F.Q. San Nicolas, D-Guam, have cosponsored the bill. Kelly told Nextgov she expects the bill to receive Republican support.