December 22, 2023

ATA EDGE Policy Conference 2024: Preparing for the “Superbowl of Telehealth”

At a Glance

  • 2024 is expected to be a landmark year for telehealth, as many of the regulatory flexibilities introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic are set to expire, giving lawmakers opportunities to extend these flexibilities beyond 2024. 
  • Like so many industries today, developments in artificial intelligence and its current and future impact on the telehealth industry dominated many conversations at the ATA EDGE policy conference this year. 

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) brought key telehealth stakeholders and policymakers together for the annual ATA EDGE policy conference on December 13-15, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Since 2020, patients and providers alike have experienced rapid change in their understanding and usage of telehealth. Advocates have long been supportive of legislation and regulations that grow the infrastructure for digital care. At EDGE, panel discussions focused on priorities for 2024, identified opportunities for enhanced access and acknowledged roadblocks to overcome. Below are some highlights from the policy-packed agenda. 

Telehealth Champions: Members of Congress & Hill Staff Speak Up

  • Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Steve Daines (R-MT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Mark Warner (D-VA) and Representatives Troy Balderson (R-OH), Bill Johnson (R-OH) Doris Matsui (D-CA), each long-time supporters of telehealth, spoke on their work to improve telehealth access. Going into 2024, their top priority is advancing legislation to make telehealth flexibilities granted during the COVID-19 public health emergency permanent. 
  • Congressional staff echoed the enthusiasm for telehealth but added a dose of reality check. Faegre Drinker’s Elliot Vice led a bipartisan, bicameral panel of congressional staffers to understand the current and future standing of the telehealth bills. With representation from the offices of Senate Finance Committee Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Rep. David Trone (D-MD) and Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA), the conversation was insightful, energetic and optimistic about the potential for legislative progress next year. However, staffers reminded attendees of one harsh reality: Congress tends to wait until the last minute before a deadline to take action. Staffers also indicated that given the current political landscape in Congress, further extension of telehealth flexibilities may be more realistic than permanent fixes before the end of 2024
  • 2024: “The Superbowl for Telehealth.” Building on the themes heard from policymakers and key lobbyists about the legislative outlook for 2024, Faegre Drinker's Nisha Quasba and ATA’s Senior VP of Public Policy Kyle Zebley laid out ATA’s strategy for telehealth advocacy in 2024 analogous to the annual ultimate football game. They discussed the organization’s playbook for success, highlighting the pivotal role of the groundwork laid in 2023 in positioning telehealth policies for movement in the upcoming election year, where legislative days will be limited and opportunities to pass bills will be scarce. Congress knows they don’t want to take telehealth away from Americans, the question will be when and how they legislate that.

A Deep Dive Into Regulatory Developments

  • Consumer Rights to Privacy and Transparency: Andy Taylor of Faegre Drinker’s business litigation practice sat down with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) privacy attorney Elisa Jillson to shed light on the agency’s initiatives to safeguard data privacy and security within the health care sector. The FTC mission is ensuring consumers are not substantially harmed and receive comprehensive, understandable information about the care they are receiving. Companies need to think through the expanding understanding of what is individually identifiable health data, including what data virtual health care providers collect about the patients they serve. As the risks of handling health data grow with AI and biometric data, companies must consider how they implement and communicate their data protection practices to consumers. The FTC did not comment on the HIPAA aspect of health data sharing concerns as that falls under the jurisdiction of HHS. 
  • Remote Prescribing of Controlled Substances: Libby Baney, partner at Faegre Drinker, led a panel discussion with representatives from HealthTech Dynamics, Folx and Ophelia to examine the challenges patients and prescribers encounter with the regulatory uncertainties around the remote prescribing of controlled substances (CS). Telehealth can reduce barriers to care if the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) allows legitimate providers to prescribe CS via telemedicine and ensures that pharmacists have a way to know when telehealth prescriptions are legitimate. The panel made it clear that patients not being able to get their medications could have devastating results. ATA will continue working with the DEA to ensure patients will receive safe and crucial medications to lead healthy lives.
  • Remote Patient Monitoring: In a discussion on Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reimbursement for RPM, Dr. Ateev Mehrotra and Carrie Nixon, Esq. considered “low-value uses for high-value treatments.” This concept discusses the overuse of great tools and how it hinders reimbursement and other payment concerns. The discussion recognized AI as part of the equation. In the coming years, AI will be able to assist in tedious aspects of RPM and reduce the administrative burden on physicians and staff. 
  • Artificial Intelligence: Speaking of AI, in a dedicated panel, representatives from Google, Butterfly and Transcarent joined other stakeholders to discuss how AI could be used effectively in health care and telehealth care. In particular, the participants noted the value of triaging through AI chatbots, the potential for diagnostic support with AI and uses of existing AI technology, like Fitbit. 

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