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Telehealth expansion and where it stands now

The American Hospital Association is the latest organization to request flexibility for patient telehealth services to become permanent

As a percentage of healthcare delivery continues to shift to telehealth with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the lingering question is: How long will government organizations, like the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and commercial insurance payers support telehealth reimbursement? Will rates remain, or will they be modified over time? How about patient payment obligations?  

As with in-person visits, reimbursements and requirements for telehealth can vary depending on your insurance payer, the services you deliver, and your state. (You can check the Center for Connected Health Policy for the latest telehealth coverage policies and state actions.). 

With future remote care opportunities in the balance — with the benefits of time savings, convenience, no-show reduction, and safety — more healthcare organizations are calling for temporary changes related to telehealth services to be made permanent. The latest to do so is the American Hospital Association (AHA), which wants telehealth flexibilities to remain long after the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is over. 

The AHA notes that the rules put into place by CMS that enabled the expansion of telehealth have allowed hospitals to increase patients’ access to care. With a wider acceptance of telehealth, especially in reimbursement allowance, only those patients who require in-person visits (to a local doctor or hospital) must leave their homes for medical care.

As the AHA points out, patients are empowered now to seek and receive care virtually in instances that were once only available with in-person visits, and will likely expect this convenience in the future. The quality and ease of a synchronous audio-video visit with a doctor caters more to each patient’s individual needs and lifestyle, and creates a patient-centered healthcare experience. 

The AHA is asking the government to recognize hospitals as telehealth providers, and allow them to continue to code and bill for telehealth services. Also, the association wants the CMS to make the following permanent: 

  • Expansion of the list of Medicare telehealth services to include those added during the pandemic. Also, maintain the sub-regulatory procedures and processes for adding additional telehealth services for patient care. 
  • Allow virtual check-ins and telehealth visits for both new and established patients. 
  • Allow remote patient monitoring for new and established patients, for both acute and chronic conditions. 
  • Allow audio-only telehealth services and reimbursement, as this is an essential offering for patients in rural areas that don’t have broadband internet access.

Other related blog posts:
Making telehealth part of your long-term practice plan (July 2020)
Your quick reference guide to telehealth billing and reimbursements (April 2020)
Telehealth today and tomorrow, part 1 (April 2020)
Telehealth today and tomorrow, part two (April 2020)

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