Health Reform WK-EDGE Medicare beneficiaries get expanded access to telehealth services during coronavirus outbreak
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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Medicare beneficiaries get expanded access to telehealth services during coronavirus outbreak

By Rebecca Mayo, J.D.

Medicare beneficiaries will now have access to a wider range of health care services without having to visit a health care facility during the coronavirus outbreak.

In an effort to protect the health of Medicare beneficiaries by reducing exposure to the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and reduce strain on health care facilities, CMS has expanded Medicare telehealth coverage. According to a press release issued by CMS, Medicare beneficiaries will not be able to receive various services through telehealth including common office visits, mental health counseling, and preventative health screenings. CMS believes that this change will help prevent vulnerable beneficiaries from unnecessarily entering a health care facility when their needs can be met remotely.

Waiver. The telehealth benefit is being expanded on a temporary and emergency basis under the 1135 waiver authority and Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. The Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, which was signed into law by the president earlier this month, included a provision allowing HHS to waive certain Medicare telehealth payment requirements during the Public Health Emergency, to allow beneficiaries in all areas of the country to receive telehealth services. Under the waiver, Medicare can pay for office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country and including in patients’ places of residence starting March 6, 2020. The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) is further providing flexibility for healthcare provider to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal health care programs.

Virtual services. Through this expansion, a range of providers, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, will be able to offer telehealth to their patients. Medicare patients may have a Medicare telehealth visit using telecommunication technology for office, hospital visits, and other services that generally occur in-person. However, the telecommunications system must permit real-time communication between the distant site and the patient. Medicare patients may also use a virtual check-in where they have a brief technology-based communication with their existing doctors and avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office. Finally, Medicare patients may have an E-Visit with their existing doctor, which is a non-face-to-face communication with their doctor through an online patient portal.

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