WASHINGTON — Iowa Congressman Randy Feenstra is co-sponsoring a bill to require Medicare to cover over-the-phone telehealth services for another year. That coverage was set to expire on December 31 of this year.

“Audio only services are a lifeline to rural communities across the country who still contend with severe lack of broadband access,” Feenstra said during a House Ways and Means Committee meeting Wednesday.

During the pandemic, Medicare began covering patient appointments conducted via video link and over the phone. Feenstra said many rural residents have no way to make a video connection. He cited a Federal Communications Commission report which found 45 million Americans cannot get broadband with high enough speeds capable of streaming video.

“I believe this underscores the need for audio-only telehealth coverage to ensure access to health care for Americans in rural areas,” Feenstra said. “This provision is particularly vital to seniors who shouldn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to receive routine care.”

The House Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved the bill yesterday. It allows federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics to bill Medicare for telehealth and delays the in-person visit requirement for mental health services for seniors.