May 15, 2020

Sen. Warren and Rep. Rice Lead Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers in Urging House & Senate Leadership to Include Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act Provisions in Upcoming COVID-19 Packages

Lawmakers request would eliminate outdated regulations and help seniors in need of audiologist services access care

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congressman Tom Rice (R-S.C.) led a letter, along with Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Congressman Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), and Congressman Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), to House and Senate leadership urging them to include provisions of the Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act (H.R. 4056 / S. 2446) in upcoming COVID-19 packages to enable vulnerable seniors to readily access critical hearing, balance healthcare services, and allow audiologists to be better deployed to serve them.

Medicare currently mandates that beneficiaries obtain a physician order before they are allowed to access an audiologist, even for a hearing test, who are still classified under outdated Medicare laws as suppliers instead of practitioners. Due to this shortfall, audiologists are excluded from health professionals who are authorized by statute to be reimbursed for services provided through telehealth.

Congress provided the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) broad waiver authority under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to waive the Medicare requirements restricting coverage of telehealth services to only those services provided by physicians and practitioners; however, to date, the Secretary has only granted waivers pertaining to audiologists for four billing codes that are not typically provided by the majority of audiologists to the Medicare population. 

"As COVID-19 forces many seniors into isolation, outdated Medicare requirements limit their ability to access the audiology services they need," the lawmakers wrote. "At this time it is necessary to remove the physician order requirement for Medicare beneficiaries who need audiology services and expand the waiver to include all services that audiologists are already authorized to bill for medically necessary in-person visits so long as they can safely and effectively provide these services through telehealth."

To provide better access to care for Medicare beneficiaries, Senator Warren and Representative Rice, along with Senator Paul and Representative Cartwright, introduced the bipartisan Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act, which contains provisions they have asked House and Senate leadership to include, such as eliminating outdated physician order requirements, making technical updates to the Medicare statute to classify audiologists appropriately as practitioners, and authorizing Medicare to reimburse audiologists for the Medicare-covered, medically necessary treatment services that they are licensed to provide. The bill would not add new services into the Medicare system.

Senator Warren also released the following statement: "It is critically important that elderly Americans have access to the care they need during this public health emergency, including access to audiologist services so that they can effectively communicate with loved ones. I will continue fighting alongside my colleagues for a package that includes provisions from our bipartisan bill to help vulnerable populations receive the care they need."

Congressman Rice also released the following statement: "Evidence has shown that a lack of treatment of audiological conditions elevates the risks of falls, injuries, depression, and cognitive decline. By cutting the red tape and streamlining policy, this bipartisan legislation will provide Medicare beneficiaries greater access to services that address their needs for hearing and balance. I will continue to reach across the aisle to find straightforward solutions to health care problems that benefit South Carolinians and all Americans, especially during this pandemic."