Updated Guidance on Using Telehealth During This Public Health Emergency

This post was originally published on March 18, 2020 at The Medical Care Blog.

Yesterday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled new guidance about using telehealth during this public health emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak. This guidance will help increase access to telehealth services. In addition, this will help people receive care who may not be able to visit their providers in person. While the current public health emergency is the reason behind the changes, changes are for all types of care.

Below is a brief summary of the changes:

  • Telehealth services may be reimbursed outside of rural areas
  • Payment will be the same for both face-to-face and telehealth visits
  • Originating site requirements have been removed, so patients can receive services at home versus going to a local healthcare setting
  • The requirement that patients be seen in person before receiving any telehealth services has been removed

In addition, the Secretary has loosened technological requirements to expand use of telehealth technologies. That means that consumer-based technologies, such as FaceTime and Skype, can be used during the COVID-19 public health emergency. This is important to reduce technological barriers for providers and patients so they can quickly get set up with telehealth during this important time.

CMS has waived restrictions about virtual check-ins and e-visits

This has important implications for primary care providers, who can now be reimbursed for virtual check-ins by phone to check with patients. This means that patients can continue to receive care during this time.

In addition, non-physicians can also bill for virtual care services.

This means that patients can continue to receive care from professionals such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and clinical psychologists during the coronavirus public health emergency.

While the CMS guidance is focused on Medicare, Medicaid plans are also permitted to loosen telehealth restrictions without special CMS approval with the condition that rates do not change. It is expected that private payers will follow suit as well.

Due to this public health emergency, CMS has loosened restrictions around telehealth.

These changes reduce barriers to entry for payment, technology and service provision. It will be interesting to see if CMS loosens restrictions around e-consults in the future and if any of these changes are retained beyond the public health emergency. We will continue to monitor and share updates.