HHS proposes to continue payment for telehealth services after COVID-19 pandemic
Changes proposed to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule for next year include making permanent certain telehealth and workforce flexibilities provided during the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS announced in a press release.
The agency is following guidance from an executive order, called Improving Rural and Telehealth Access, which was signed by President Donald J. Trump earlier this week.
“The executive order and proposed rule advance our efforts to improve access and convenience of care for Medicare beneficiaries, particularly those living in rural areas,” according to the CMS release.
Medicare began paying for virtual check-ins in 2019. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS expanded payment for telehealth services.
“Before the public health emergency (PHE), only 14,000 beneficiaries received a Medicare telehealth service in a week while over 10.1 million beneficiaries have received a Medicare telehealth service during the public health emergency from mid-March through early-July,” according to the release.
“Telemedicine can never fully replace in-person care, but it can complement and enhance in-person care by furnishing one more powerful clinical tool to increase access and choices for Americas seniors,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in the release.
During the public health emergency, CMS added 135 services, such as emergency department visits, initial inpatient and nursing facility visits, and discharge day management services, that could be paid when delivered by telehealth. CMS is proposing to permanently allow some of those services to be done by telehealth, including home visits for the evaluation and management of a patient (in the case where the law allows telehealth services in the patient’s home), and certain types of visits for patients with cognitive impairments. CMS is seeking public input on other services to permanently add to the telehealth list beyond the PHE to give clinicians and patients time as they get ready to provide in-person care again, according to the release.
CMS is also proposing to temporarily extend payment for other telehealth services such as emergency department visits, for a specific time period, through the calendar year in which the PHE ends, the agency noted. “This will also give the community time to consider whether these services should be delivered permanently through telehealth outside of the PHE,” according to the release.
Public comments on the proposed Medicare Physician Fee Schedule are due by Oct. 5.