March 15, 2022, 12:35 p.m. — As usual, when Congress agreed to the latest omnibus spending package last week, it was only after considerable angst and not a little suspense.
When the dust settled, though, the AAFP could see a number of advocacy wins for family physicians among the bill’s provisions for fiscal year 2022, including preserved access to telehealth, and significant investments to address racial inequalities in maternal health outcomes and improve access to comprehensive maternal health care services (especially in rural areas).
Let’s break down the good news.
We’ve spent many months urging Congress to maintain the virtual care lifeline connecting family physicians with their patients during the pandemic, testifying on telehealth’s powerful health equity benefits. The omnibus legislation ensures that Medicare patients can continue receiving virtual care at home, and that federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics are able to deliver telehealth services, for five months after the public health emergency ends.
In another win for the AAFP, the legislation also temporarily eliminates barriers to tele-mental health services by delaying an in-person requirement for Medicare patients.
These short-term steps are an important continuation of a reliable new normal for both family physicians and their patients. They also present us with firm ground on which to continue our push to solidify permanent telehealth policies that increase equitable access to care, enhance the physician-patient relationship and protect patient safety.
We’ve also steadily called for studies to monitor the impact of telehealth on access and equity, as well as measures to ensure that data collection and evaluation include race, ethnicity, gender, language and other key factors. It’s another win for us, then, that the legislation builds in requirements for reports on telehealth utilization and compels HHS to release telehealth data.
We’re excited to see the Maternal Health Quality Improvements Act included in the omnibus package. This bill, for which the Academy pressed, creates a new grant program to train physicians, nurses and other health professionals to improve the provision of prenatal care, labor care, birthing and postpartum care for racial and ethnic minority populations, including addressing perceptions and biases that may affect patient care. Among other provisions, it also directs HHS, in coordination with expert stakeholders, to develop best practices to improve maternal health care quality and outcomes, improve maternal and infant health, and eliminate preventable maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity.
Complementing this is the Rural MOMS Act, passed within the omnibus package following our advocacy, which is designed to improve the collection of rural maternal and obstetric care data. It sets up grants to establish rural obstetric networks, telehealth networks and resource centers to expand access to care in rural communities.
As we just asked of lawmakers, the bill increases the FDA’s authority to include synthetic nicotine products in its oversight.
And it sends $8.5 billion to the CDC to increase funding for public health infrastructure, as well as for capacity and modernization of public health data surveillance and analytics. This, too, answers the Academy’s call to action.
The omnibus package extends a temporary increase of Medicaid’s federal medical assistance percentage for U.S. territories through Dec. 13, a necessary step toward achieving health equity. This isn’t the permanent boost for which we’ve lobbied, but again, it preserves Medicaid patients’ access to care and prepares the ground for renewed advocacy.
The bill also gives $65 million more to community health centers than was allotted in 2021, in line with the AAFP’s advocacy.
These wins show that the Academy is moving lawmakers in the right direction on our priorities. As usual, we’re encouraged, but hardly content. Our fight for your practices and your patients goes on.
Stephanie Quinn, AAFP Senior Vice President of Advocacy, Practice Advancement and Policy. Read author bio »