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| March 23, 2020

CMS Expands Telehealth Services Over Duration of Coronavirus Crisis

Nqaba Matshazi

Nqaba has been working as an investigative journalist for the last 10 years. He has written for various media outlets across the world. Nqaba has been working as an investigative journalist for the last 10 years. He has written for various media outlets across the world.

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.

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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.

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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.

Emergency declaration

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.

Following the outbreak, a number of countries, including the U.S. have responded by shutting their borders, specifically affecting visitors from countries that are considered coronavirus hotspots such as China, Italy and Iran.

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Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are using IBM’s Summit, the world’s most powerful and smartest supercomputer, to identify 77 small-molecule drug compounds that might advance the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, responsible for the COVID-19 disease outbreak.

Drugmakers are working around the clock to create a vaccine for the virus. Moderna Inc, Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc, and Novavax Inc are some of the companies that have announced they are working to develop vaccinations against the virus. The World Health Organization has also announced that Gilead Sciences’ drug, remdesivir  could help treat the deadly coronavirus.

In an effort to halt the spread of the virus, Illinois announced a number of measures to prepare the state in the event of a widespread breakout, including the setting up of a toll-free number Illinoisans can call to get information about the virus or report suspected cases.

As of March 18, globally, 8,012 deaths had been recorded due to the coronavirus; 202,277 cases had been confirmed. In the U.S., the death toll stood at 116; 6,524 cases had been confirmed.

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