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TREATS Act Aims to Expand Use of Telehealth to Treat Substance Use Disorder

A bipartisan pair of US senators have proposed legislation that would allow certain controlled substances to be prescribed via an initial telehealth encounter and—under certain conditions—expand Medicare reimbursement of audio-only substance use disorder treatment services. The proposed TREATS Act has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and could significantly reduce the regulatory burdens associated with the remote prescribing of controlled substances. For more than a decade, healthcare providers in the United States have been largely prohibited from prescribing controlled substances via telehealth without having previously performed an in-person medical evaluation of the patient. Although Congress created the framework for a “special registration” pathway that has the potential to more broadly permit the practice, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has not issued regulations to implement it. This has been...

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Around the Corner: The Future Of Telehealth After COVID-19

Prior to the pandemic, health providers and stakeholders were quickly moving to develop and expand existing telehealth programs. Now we are seeing an adoption of telehealth solutions that far surpasses all of the activity we saw in the past five years combined. Joined by leaders from BDO, Babylon Health, Crossover Health and the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, we discussed what the future of digital provider/patient engagement may look like after COVID-19 and the legal factors that influence implementation. Telehealth is the new normal and there is no turning back. PROGRAM INSIGHTS There is now recognition that telehealth can, in fact, replace in-person visits in many situations. Patients and healthcare providers have quickly turned to telehealth to provide care for existing and new healthcare conditions during the pandemic. This increase in use has provided additional data demonstrating the value of telehealth. In addition to telehealth visits, patients...

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$200 Million of Funding for COVID-19 Telehealth Program

On April 2, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched the $200 million Coronavirus (COVID-19) Telehealth Program contemplated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Telehealth Program is distinguishable from the broader Connected Care Pilot Program, which will make an additional $100 million in federal universal service funds available for telehealth over the next three years. Telehealth Program Notwithstanding telehealth’s advantages, most low-income Americans are unable to utilize telehealth services due to their lack of consistent, broadband internet connection. Furthermore, some providers are limited in their ability to treat patients via telehealth due to the substantial financial and IT investment in developing connected care programs (e.g., purchase of remote patient monitoring devices, telehealth software platforms). The purpose of the Telehealth Program is to support healthcare providers in urban and...

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Bipartisan Bill Relaxes Federal Telehealth Requirements in the Wake of COVID-19

On March 4, 2020, the House passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020, a bipartisan bill to aid in COVID-19 preparedness and response. The bill includes, among other things, provisions that waive certain telehealth requirements during the COVID-19 public health emergency to ensure Medicare beneficiaries can receive telehealth services at home to avoid placing themselves at greater risk of the virus. Generally, Medicare beneficiaries may only receive telehealth services as a Medicare covered service if: The beneficiary (patient) is located in a qualifying rural area; The beneficiary is located at one of eight types of qualifying originating sites; The services are provided by one of 10 categories of distant site practitioners eligible to furnish and receive Medicare payment for telehealth services; The beneficiary and distant site practitioner communicate via an interactive audio and video telecommunications system...

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The Role of Telehealth in COVID-19 Response Efforts

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States grows, healthcare providers are stepping up their response planning. To combat the spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged healthcare systems and providers to deploy all of the resources necessary to ensure health system preparedness. The CDC recommended the use of telehealth tools to help address COVID-19 preparedness and to assist in directing patients to the right level of healthcare for their medical needs. Healthcare providers have a unique and pressing opportunity to offer telehealth services to potential COVID-19 patients. At the same time, healthcare providers’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak highlights some of the barriers to the provision of telehealth services. Providers considering using telehealth as part of their COVID-19 response efforts should take the following factors into consideration: While healthcare providers cannot diagnose COVID-19...

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New Laws Expand Telehealth in California

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed into law two bills that expand the delivery of telehealth services in the state. In particular, the legislation: Permits providers to prescribe medications without a synchronous interaction Requires payment parity of telehealth services under commercial plans Loosens restrictions on Medicaid coverage of store-and-forward services. California healthcare providers and commercial health payers should consider the following key takeaways from these laws. Remote Prescribing Assembly Bill No. 1264 (codified at Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 2242(a)) took immediate effect on October 11, 2019. This provision alters the standard for prescribing, dispensing and furnishing dangerous drugs (including any prescription medication): Such drugs may be prescribed, dispensed and furnished as long as there is an “appropriate prior examination and a medical indication.” The law specifies that the appropriate prior examination “does...

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CMS Innovation Center Proposes Telehealth Solutions in ET3 Model

As part of its efforts to provide patient-centered care and reduce costs for Medicare beneficiaries, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have developed an Innovation Center model for ambulance care teams: Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport (ET3). As part of this model, the agency has proposed two potential telehealth offerings: 1) An individual who calls 911 may be connected to a dispatch system that has incorporated a medical triage line to be screened for eligibility for medical triage services prior to ambulance initiation, and 2) telehealth assistance via audiovisual communications technologies with a qualified provider once the ambulance arrives. Key participants in the ET3 model will be Medicare-enrolled ambulance service suppliers and hospital-owned ambulance providers. In addition, to advance regional alignment, local governments, their designees or other entities that operate or have authority over one or more 911 dispatches in geographic...

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Telehealth-Related Updates Included in 2019 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule

On November 1, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) issued final rules for updating the 2019 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule to implement recent telehealth-related legislative reforms. As reported in our Digital Health Mid-Year Report: Focus on Medicare, these changes are expected to have a material impact on the ability of providers to receive payment for delivering telehealth services. Certain key changes are highlighted below: Qualified providers may be reimbursed when providing telehealth services for stroke and kidney disease—even when patients are located in their own homes. Qualified providers may receive a small amount of reimbursement for holding “virtual check-in[s]” with patients and when they evaluate recorded video and images from an established patient. CMS noted that these changes are aimed at allowing providers to help determine whether an in-person visit or additional follow-up is needed. Doing so “increase[s] efficiency for...

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CMS Proposes New Telehealth Guidelines and RADV Extrapolation for MAOs

On October 26, 2018, CMS released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing expanded telehealth coverage in Medicare Advantage, extrapolation of RADV audit results, and updates to the Medicare Advantage and Part D Quality Star Ratings program, among other topics. If finalized, the regulations set forth in the Proposed Rule would impact not only Medicare Advantage and Part D plan sponsors but also a broad range of providers and health care companies, particularly those involved in the provision or delivery of telehealth services. CMS is accepting comments on the Proposed Rule through December 31, 2018. Access the full article.

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The RUSH Act – Another Advancement in Telehealth Acceptance?

As previously noted in our Digital Health Mid-Year Review, 2018 has seen greater acceptance of telemedicine within the Medicare program. Both regulatory and statutory changes have expanded reimbursement opportunities and, consequentially, opportunities for the deployment of telemedicine technologies. As we noted then, however, improvement in the Medicare reimbursement environment for telemedicine services has been tied to a policy goal of not increasing utilization unnecessarily. We noted in our Mid-Year Review that Congress appears to be following MedPac’s recent guidance that Congress “should take a measured approach to further incorporating telehealth into Medicare by evaluating individual telehealth services to assess their capacity to address. . . cost reduction, access expansion, and quality improvement.” The recently introduced Reducing Unnecessary Senior Hospitalizations Act of 2018 (the RUSH Act), seems to deviate from MedPac's suggested...

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