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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 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.

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Expanded Telemedicine Services Presented as Means to Address Opioid Crisis in New Legislation

Last week, President Trump signed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (SUPPORT Act), a bipartisan piece of legislation designed to tackle the opioid crisis by, among other approaches, increasing the use of telemedicine services to treat addiction. Several key provisions are summarized below.

The package includes provisions to expand public reimbursement for telemedicine services that focus on addiction treatment. Specifically, the legislation removes Medicare’s originating site requirement for substance abuse treatment provided via telemedicine, meaning that health professionals can receive Medicare reimbursement even if the patient is not located in a rural area. In addition, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has been directed to issue guidance to states regarding possible ways that Medicaid programs can receive federal reimbursement for treating substance abuse via telemedicine. The legislation explicitly identifies services provided via a hub and spoke model and in school-based health centers, among others, as those that should be eligible for federal reimbursement.

In another development, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is now required to implement regulations regarding a special registration process for telemedicine providers within one year of the passage of the SUPPORT Act. The aim of this process is to expand health providers’ ability to prescribe controlled substances to patients in need of substance use disorder treatment based on a telemedicine consultation, without having to conduct an in-person evaluation first. This special registration process was originally contemplated 10 years ago under the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 (Ryan Haight Act) as one of the seven pathways through which a telemedicine provider could prescribe a controlled substance to his/her patient without having first conducted an in-person evaluation, but the DEA never issued any regulations to effectuate it. At present, the special registration process and requirements (e.g., registration costs, application processing timeline, provider qualifications) are still largely unknown. The answers to these open issues will determine how accessible this new registration pathway will be to substance use disorder providers and, therefore, how impactful it will be in connecting patients in need of substance use disorder treatment with qualified providers.

In addition to these policy reforms, the SUPPORT Act also directs government agencies to conduct additional research into the possible benefits of telemedicine technology for treating substance abuse. Both CMS and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) are tasked with publishing reports concerning the use of telemedicine technology for treating children: CMS is directed to analyze how to reduce barriers to adopting such technology, and GAO is directed to evaluate how states can increase the number of Medicaid providers that treat substance use disorders via telemedicine in school-based clinics. Furthermore, the Department of Health and Human Services must issue a report regarding the impact of using telemedicine services to treat opioid addiction within five years.




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 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.




More Federal Legislation Aimed at Expanding Medicare Coverage of Telehealth Services

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. (more…)




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