CMS proposes permanent expansion of telehealth benefits

August 4, 2020
Keith A. Reynolds
Keith A. Reynolds

This would make concessions implemented due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic permanent.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is proposing a permanent expansion of telehealth as a way to bring healthcare into rural areas.

According to a news release, the move comes as part of the Fostering Innovation and Rethinking Rural Health strategic initiative which seeks to modernize Medicare through private sector innovation. The push for telehealth started in 2019 when CMS approved payments to physicians for virtual check-ins.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, CMS has expanded payment for telehealth services and implemented other flexibilities to bring care to Medicare beneficiaries without the risk of infection. Before the pandemic only 14,000 beneficiaries received Medicare telehealth service in a week, during the pandemic, from mid-March to early-July, more than 10.1 million beneficiaries have received the service, the release says.

“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. “The Trump Administration’s unprecedented expansion of telemedicine during the pandemic represents a revolution in healthcare delivery, one to which the healthcare system has adapted quickly and effectively.”

During the COVID-19 public health emergency, CMS has added 135 services which can be paid for when delivered by telehealth. The proposed rule would permanently allow some of those services to continue to be delivered via telehealth including home visits for evaluation and management of patients and certain visits for patients with cognitive impairments, the release says.