“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 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said in aissued March 17.
Some of the existing benefits were previously limited to rural communities.
“These services can also be provided in a variety of settings, including nursing homes, hospital outpatient departments, and more,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma during a March 17 White House press briefing on administration actions to contain the spread of COVID-19.
That means that seniors can continue to receive their routine care without having to leave the home and risk infection, or they can get medical guidance if they have mild symptoms, which would help mitigate the spread to others.
“This shift is very important for clinicians and providers who, over the coming weeks, will face considerable strain on their time and resources,” Dr. Verma said. “[It] allows the health care system to prioritize care for those who have more needs or who are in dire need, and it also preserves protective equipment.”
A range of providers will be able to deliver telehealth services, including doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers. Visits using telehealth services will be considered the same as in-person visits and will be paid as if the patient were seen in the office.
This expansion of Medicare telehealth services will continue for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
“In addition, the [Health & Human Services’] office of inspector general is providing flexibility for health care providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal health care programs,” the fact sheet states.Key to the expansion is that it will cover the entire United States and will not be limited to rural areas.
Dr. Verma also noted that the administration “will be temporarily suspending certain HIPAA requirements so that doctors can provide telehealth with their own phones.”
She added that state Medicaid agencies can expand their telehealth services without the approval of CMS during this emergency.
AGA has released a guide to commercial telehealth COVID-19 coding policies (http://ow.ly/8CIH30qsU0B) that supplements their guide to public payors.