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House lawmakers dial up campaign to extend high-deductible plan rule

BY: BEN LEONARD | 12/12/2022 02:35 PM EST

Thirty House lawmakers wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday calling for an extension of a provision allowing high-deductible health plans to cover telehealth before subscribers have met their deductibles.

The provision, first established under the March 2020 CARES Act, is set to expire Dec. 31 without Congressional action. The lawmakers — led by Reps. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) and Susie Lee (D-Nev.) — want an extension tacked onto an end-of-year spending package.

“Telehealth has allowed families to avoid taking time off from work to travel to and from appointments, and timely care has helped prevent costly visits,” the lawmakers wrote. “Unfortunately, those with a high deductible may decide to skip critical preventative services — including primary care and behavioral health services — if the deductible is not waived, often leading to poor health outcomes and more costly care down the line.”

Why it matters: More than 30 million Americans are on the plans. About 90 percent of high-deductible health plans that were members of the ERISA Industry Committee, a trade association, used the telehealth provision this year, up from more than 80 percent in 2021 and more than 60 percent in April 2020.

What’s next: Negotiations in the Ways and Means Committee have hit some stumbling blocks. Democrats view an extension as a Republican ask and have requested funding to help hospitals and other health care organizations cope with climate change, according to a GOP aide granted anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations.

A spokesperson for Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said in an e-mail that it “would be premature to make any additional characterization about the conversations.”

“Given the Committee’s significant work on climate and health, there is interest in moving the ball forward by providing funding for quality improvement organizations to work with hospitals on resilience,” the spokesperson also said.

Many of the lawmakers who signed the letter serve on the committee, including Schneider, Reps. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.).

It’s unclear if lawmakers will be able to secure a deal on either the telehealth provision, or even on an omnibus spending package, by the end of the year.

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