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 not require a synchronous interaction” (e., real-time communication) and can be administered via telehealth as long as the provider abides by the appropriate standard of care.
  • The provision expressly identifies certain asynchronous technologies, including questionnaires and self-screening tools, that are permissible methods for conducting the prior examination.

Previously, the law required an “appropriate prior examination” but gave no detail regarding what that examination entailed. The new provision provides clarity and enables providers to use innovative solutions such as dynamic questionnaires when prescribing medications to patients.

Payment Parity

Although California previously required certain insurers (including commercial payers and Medi-Cal managed care plans) to cover telehealth services, it did not specify that telehealth services have to be reimbursed at the same rate as in-person care. Assembly Bill No. 744 changed that with its addition of two new statutes: Cal. Health & Safety Code § 1374.14 and Cal. Ins. Code § 10123.855. These new provisions do not require reimbursement parity for Medi-Cal managed care plans, however.

These statutes incorporate the following provisions for contracts that are issued, amended or renewed on or after January 1, 2021:

  • Commercial payers must reimburse services appropriately delivered through telehealth “on the same basis and to the same extent” as the services are reimbursed when provided in person.
  • Insurers and providers retain the ability to negotiate reimbursement rates, but healthcare services that are the same, “as determined by the provider’s description of the service on the claim,” will be reimbursed at the same rate, whether provided in person or through telehealth.
  • Telehealth services offered by an out-of-network provider do not need to be covered by a health plan or insurer, unless required under other provisions of law.
  • Insurers can establish copayment or coinsurance requirements for telehealth services if they do not exceed the copayment or coinsurance for in-person services. However, cost sharing is not required for telehealth services.
  • Telehealth reimbursement does not need to be separated from other capitated or bundled risk-based payments.
  • Insurers cannot limit coverage only to corporate telehealth service providers.

Medicaid Coverage of Store and Forward

Previously, Medi-Cal only permitted certain services to be delivered via store and forward without face-to-face contact, including teleophthalmology, teledermatology and teledentistry. However, Assembly Bill No. 744 revised Cal. Welf. & Ins. Code § 14132.725 such that face-to-face contact is not required for any services provided by asynchronous store-and-forward technologies.

Winnie Uluocha, a law clerk in the Firm’s Chicago office, also contributed to this post. 

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 areas where ambulance suppliers and providers have been selected to participate in the ET3 model will have an opportunity to access cooperative agreement funding. As such, both state regulations and CMS regulations will apply to the use of telehealth offerings under ET3. This post explores early-stage questions of ET3 implementation and reimbursement, the intersection of state laws governing telehealth, and what potential participants and telehealth companies should know about the program.

How will CMS support the ET3 model implementation?

The key telehealth development for the ET3 program is that CMS expects to waive the telehealth geographic and originating site rules as necessary to implement the model, including waivers that will allow participants to facilitate telehealth at the scene of a 911 response. Additional information on these waivers is expected to accompany the ET3 Request for Applications (RFA), slated for release this summer. Overall, Medicare coverage requirements provide that the patient must be in an approved originating site at the time of the telehealth visit (e.g., hospital) and must be located within a rural area. CMS has waived these two requirements for other programs, such as the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (the SUPPORT Act) in October 2018, which eliminated the originating site restriction for substance use disorder treatment, because doing so is necessary for these programs to succeed.

Continue Reading CMS Innovation Center Proposes Telehealth Solutions in ET3 Model

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 practitioners and convenience for beneficiaries.”
  • CMS also issued an interim final rule related to the recently-signed SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that was passed to combat the opioid crisis. Similar to the Bipartisan Budget Act, the SUPPORT Act removed the originating site requirement for substance abuse and related mental health treatments. There is a 60-day comment period before this rule will be finalized.

Together, these rules represent a substantial expansion of Medicare reimbursement for services provided via telehealth.  For additional guidance on how to interpret and implement these new changes, please contact your regular McDermott attorney.

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.

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 approach. The RUSH Act seeks to avoid hospitalizations through a program that creates financial incentives for providing certain nonsurgical services furnished by hospital emergency departments at skilled nursing facilities that are qualified to provide such services by the Secretary of Health and Human Services The RUSH Act specifically refers to the possibility that some of these services could be provided by licensed practitioners “through the use of telehealth.” Interestingly, the RUSH Act does not specify what telehealth services should be allowable or how they should be reimbursed; rather, the RUSH Act leaves these matters for agency determination.

According to Representative Diane Black (TN), one of the bill’s sponsors, “[t]here are companies who are ready and able to provide this innovative care. . . . These positive disruptors just need Medicare’s payment policies to catch up with the technology. . . giving [nursing homes] the technology-enabled tools needed to lower health care costs and, most importantly, save lives.”

As an observer of this industry, I tend to agree with this claim, but under the approach taken by this bill, that determination will need to be made by the Department of Health and Human Services. Digital health companies looking for a better reimbursement environment are well-advised to focus on the bottom line of federal health policy–lower cost, improved care and increased access.

In an effort to address the need for increased access to behavioral health services, Illinois has passed a series of bills that meaningfully expand the reimbursement of telehealth services delivered to its Medicaid patients. Illinois’ legislators, telemedicine advocates, healthcare providers and patient advocacy groups collaborated in an impressive effort to develop focused and targeted legislative solutions that effectively balance the need to get critical behavioral health services to patients in need with long-standing concerns that increasing access via telehealth will result in greater health care costs to a state already experiencing severe financial challenges.

Governor Bruce Rauner advised that these “initiatives work together to improve the quality of care and hopefully the quality of life for so many Illinoisans suffering from mental health and substance use disorders.” Supporters of the legislation are optimistic that these changes will further expand telehealth programs in Illinois, continuing the growth experienced in the past several years.

As a result of changes to the Illinois Public Aid Code (305 ILCS 5/5-5.25), the following will receive reimbursement from the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (“Department”) for delivering telehealth services that meet applicable requirements:

  • Clinical psychologists
  • Clinical social workers
  • Advanced practice registered nurses certified in psychiatric and mental health nursing
  • Mental health professionals and clinicians who are authorized by Illinois law to provide mental health services to recipients via telehealth (in addition to psychiatrists and federally qualified health centers)

The Department is also required to reimburse any Medicaid certified eligible facility or provider organization that acts as the originating site (i.e., the location of the patient at the time a telehealth service is rendered), including substance abuse centers licensed by the Department of Human Services’ Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.

In addition to these changes, the Illinois Telehealth Act’s definition of a “Health care professional” (225 ILCS 150/5) has been revised to include dentists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, physical therapists, clinical social workers, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and hearing instrument dispensers. As a result of this change, these professionals are now explicitly subject to the Illinois Telehealth Act’s requirements.

Finally, the Illinois Insurance Code (215 ILCS 5/356z.22) has been amended to require that any individual or group policy of accident or health insurance that provides coverage for telehealth services also provide coverage for telehealth services provided by licensed dietitian nutritionists and certified diabetes educators to senior diabetes patients. The amended section clearly states that this change is intended to “remove the hurdle of transportation for senior diabetes patients to receive treatment.” While this change is a step in the right direction, Illinois remains in the minority as one of the states without a telehealth coverage and/or payment parity law. The vast majority of states have parity laws that, at a minimum, include a coverage requirement, mandating certain types of payors to approve and reimburse certain telehealth encounters the same as they would in-person medical encounters.

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The Illinois legislators who sponsored the passed legislation will be recognized for their efforts at the 2018 Telehealth Awards Luncheon organized by the Partnership for a Connected Illinois scheduled at the Chicago office of McDermott Will & Emery on November 13, 2018. Please contact Laura Lewandowski for additional details on registration.

The author thanks McDermott Summer Associate Emily Edwards for her research contributions to this article.

What if you didn’t have to take time out of your day to see a physician in person when you needed a prescription? What if a diagnosis could be delivered over video chat? What if your psychiatrist was available at the press of a button or swipe on your screen?

These options are fast becoming a reality, as telehealth (or telemedicine) continues to take hold in a health care system that is desperate for increased efficiency and higher quality outcomes. And while telehealth offers exciting new possibilities in terms of convenience and access for patients, it also poses new regulatory challenges for industry stakeholders still learning the new rules of the game in today’s digital health ecosystem.

The Chronic Care Act

One of the biggest drivers of change in the industry right now is the Chronic Care Act. Last month, as part of the House and Senate budget deal to fund the government through March 23, legislators included the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017, which will increase reimbursement for a lot of different telemedicine programs.

For example, if you went to a rural hospital and they didn’t have a stroke neurologist and you were having a stroke, you would have an ED doctor with no stroke specialty diagnosing you—not an ideal situation. With telemedicine, it’s now possible for rural doctors to consult with specialty doctors at renowned sites, which the government will fund thanks to the Chronic Care Act. Continue Reading Telehealth and the Changing Regulatory Landscape: Opportunities and Challenges in the Digital Health Ecosystem

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reiterated its commitments to expanding access to telehealth services and paying “appropriately” for services that maximize technology in the Medicare Program; Revisions to Payment Policies under the Physician Fee Schedule and Other Revisions to Part B for CY 2018; Medicare Shared Savings Program Requirements; and Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program Final Rule published on November 15, 2017 (the Final Rule). Among many other developments, the Final Rule expands allowable telehealth reimbursement under the calendar year (CY) 2018 Physician Fee Schedule, List of Medicare Telehealth Services (list) and permits virtual sessions in certain circumstances under the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program Expanded Model (MDPP, or the Program). The regulations are effective January 1, 2018.

“New” and “Add-On” Telehealth Services Slated for Reimbursement

CMS evaluates requests for the addition of telehealth services on the basis of two categories: (1) services that are similar to services already on the list and (2) services that are not similar to services already on the list. An evaluation of a category (2) service requires CMS to assess, based on the submission of evidence, whether the use of a telecommunications system to furnish the service “produces demonstrated clinical benefit to the patient.” Continue Reading Slow and Steady – CMS Expands Telehealth Reimbursement Opportunities in 2018

On May 3, 2017, the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies for Health Act of 2017 (S. 1016) (CONNECT Act of 2017) was reintroduced by the same six senators who had initially introduced the legislation in early 2016 and referred to the Senate Committee on Finance. As we previously reported on February 29, 2016, this iteration of the proposed bill also focuses on promoting cost savings and quality care under the Medicare program through the use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) services, and incentivizing such digital health technologies by expanding coverage for them under the Medicare program—albeit using different terminology. Chiefly, the CONNECT Act of 2017 serves as a way to expand telehealth and RPM for Medicare beneficiaries, makes it easier for patients to connect with their health care providers and helps reduce costs for patients and providers. As with the previous iteration, the CONNECT Act of 2017 has received statements of support from over 50 organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Telemedicine Association, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Connected Health Initiative, Federation of State Medical Boards, National Coalition on Health Care and an array of vendors and health systems. Continue Reading Round Two: Significant Telehealth Expansion Re-Proposed in Bipartisan Senate Bill

Late last month, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced Senate Bill 787, the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act (Telehealth Improvement Act), which is focused on expanding Medicare’s currently limited coverage of telehealth services and opportunities for innovation.

The Telehealth Improvement Act would require the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to test the effect of including telehealth services in Medicare health care delivery reform models. More specifically, the Act would require CMMI to assess telehealth models for effectiveness, cost and quality improvement, and if the telehealth model meets these criteria, then the model will be covered through the Medicare program. Continue Reading More Federal Legislation Aimed at Expanding Medicare Coverage of Telehealth Services