Policy Exploration #5: H.R.366 - Protecting Access to Post-COVID–19 Telehealth Act of 2021
H.R. 366 is yet another federally-spearheaded bill which amends Title XI of the Social Security Act in attempt to preserve the myriad of emergency provisions (particularly those for Medicare and other matters of public welfare related to the Social Security Act.) More specifically, H.R. 366 would allot the precise power of the Secretary of Health to waive or modify any Title XVIII-related matters with respect to telehealth during any emergency period, as well as the lofty promise of better expanding access to rural partisans, eliminating geographic and home site requirements and the inclusion of potential additional originating sites.
Beneficiaries of this bill would ostensibly include telehealth furnishers and customers presently benefitting from the loosening of health bureaucracy brought on by the public health emergency and the same in rural areas and areas hampered by arbitrary site requirements.
The principle target of this bill is the Secretary of Health, the DHHS, and the Offices for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Any entities dealing in the bureaucratic ramifications of the Social Security Act can be said to be secondary targets.
The legal instruments of H.R. 366 involve the amendment of the Social Security Act and broad allotment of its listed powers to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Due to the nature of present requirements and what the bill would amend,
The primary intended outcome we could come to expect from this legislation (given its specific lineup of action and lack of dependency on external funding) would be a continuation in the greatly increased use of telehealth we've seen come about since March of last year and the continuation of the broadly increased access involved in that. Owed again to its nature, the bill would likely avoid the common pratfall of preserving or imposing zoning restrictions as well, but unintended outcomes would span as far as the intentions of the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
At a first glance, this bill may appear similar to the last case study about the so-called Telehealth Modernization Act, which I lambasted for being insufficient and vague. While I didn't allude too hard to it in the actual report above, H.R. 366 is a sort of superior counterpart that addresses those grievances. The Telehealth Modernization Act bill also focused powers on the Secretary of Health, but gave no clear indication of what the Secretary could and couldn't do regarding the niceties of the new bill. It also strictly and too specifically amended Title XVIII of the Social Security Act (a handful of single word changes,) offering only a vague sense of what was going to change and who could do what. H.R. 366 is a healthy balance of regulatory backbone that very clearly lines out what it does to the Social Security Act and what it would allow the Secretary to do, as well as including additional clauses to protect from the zoning mistakes other bills (federal and state) risk re-establishing. The benefits to us are as clear as any other telehealth law, and thankfully more so this time around - however, I can't help but feel the concentration of abject power of decision in the Secretary of Health's hands leaves this bill to only be as effective as the Secretary behind it. It seems legislation like this is would be more prone to partisan politics and other kinds of agenda setting. I also still don't think this is quite comprehensive enough, but the passage of this bill would - above all the others I've discussed so far - a step in the right direction.
While a bit dense in the legalese (which is nothing new,) I would recommend to all readers to give this one in particular a quick glance, just to get more of a feel of what the outcomes may be should it ever make it out of committee: