There has been much discussion about the permanent expansion of access to telehealth beyond the coronavirus pandemic. For now, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has extended the public health emergency to October 23, 2020. Although this a good start, many providers and government officials have urged lawmakers to make the improved telehealth access permanent. One such proposed legislation is the Executive Order on Improving Rural and Telehealth Access.
Executive Order on Improving Rural and Telehealth Access
In 2019, CMS began paying for patients to have initial appointments with providers via phone or video chat. These appointments determined whether or not the patient needed to come in for an in-person visit. However, this did little to help patients in rural communities, as provider offices are often a far commute.
Fast forward to early 2020. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS eased telehealth restrictions to increase access to care and expand payment for telehealth services. Prior to the COVID public health emergency, Medicare patients utilizing telehealth services across the country amounted to 14,000 patients per week. The COVID emergency resulted in 10.1 million Medicare beneficiaries seeking telehealth care since March.
Although the COVID pandemic has had many pitfalls, the improved access of care for Medicare patients during the crisis has caused many to urge for permanent loosening of telehealth restrictions.
An Executive Order signed on August 3, 2020 proposes improved access and convenience of care for Medicare patients, especially patients living in rural areas. The Executive Order aligns with legislation proposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
The proposed rule will:
◈ Improve medical access and convenience for rural residents
◈ Reduce clinician burden under CMS’ Patients Over Paperwork initiative
◈ Ensure adequate reimbursement for time spent with patients
◈ Take steps to implement President Trump’s Executive Order on Improving Rural and Telehealth Access
◈ Ensure that Medicare is sustainable for future generations
CMS Administrator Seema Verma said, “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 America’s seniors. 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.”
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