The federal government has announced that it is expanding Medicare telehealth coverage during the coronavirus crisis so that beneficiaries can receive a wider range of healthcare services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility.
The new changes will benefit older people with ongoing medical problems who need to visit physicians but have to stay home during the coronavirus crisis thanks to public health advice.
Since March 6, Medicare — administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) — has been temporarily paying clinicians to provide telehealth services for beneficiaries across the entire country.
Giving people greater access to care
“The Trump Administration is taking swift and bold action to give patients greater access to care through telehealth during the COVID-19 outbreak. These changes allow seniors to communicate with their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility so that they can limit risk of exposure and spread of this virus. Clinicians on the frontlines will now have greater flexibility to safely treat our beneficiaries” CMS Administrator, Seema Verma, said in a statement.
Before these changes, Medicare could only pay for telehealth on a limited basis. That is when the person receiving the service is in a designated rural area and when they leave their home and go to a clinic, hospital, or certain other types of medical facilities for the service, a statement explained.
In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced it will waive potential HIPAA penalties for good faith use of telehealth during the coronavirus crisis.
How the expansion will work
Furthermore, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) has provided flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive beneficiary cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.
With these changes, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said more older Americans will be able to access healthcare they need from their homes, without worrying about putting themselves or others at risk during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Providers will be allowed to use everyday technologies to talk to telehealth patients, more telehealth services will be covered for millions more Medicare beneficiaries, and providers will be allowed to offer these telehealth benefits to Medicare beneficiaries at a lower cost than traditional services. From the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, President Trump has been knocking out every bureaucratic obstacle possible that stands in the way of a rapid and effective response,” Azar said in a statement.
The US News website explained that the changes to the telehealth regulations are particularly important because the risk of serious illness from the coronavirus is greater for older people and those with underlying health problems such as lung conditions, diabetes or heart problems. The outlet said many Medicare beneficiaries are managing chronic health issues that put them at heightened risk.
On March 13, President Trump announced an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act and the National Emergencies Act. Following the emergency declaration, CMS is expanding Medicare’s telehealth benefits under the 1135 waiver authority and the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. This guidance and other recent actions by CMS provide regulatory flexibility to ensure that all Americans — particularly high-risk individuals — are aware of easy-to-use, accessible benefits that can help keep them healthy while helping to contain the spread of coronavirus disease, a statement said.
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