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CMS Addresses Virtual Care Expansion in CY 2022 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Proposal

On July 23, 2021, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published its annual proposed changes to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS), which include several key telehealth and other virtual care-related proposals. The proposals address long-standing restrictions that have historically limited the use of telehealth and virtual care, including geographic and originating site restrictions, and limitations on audio-only care, as well as coverage extensions for some services added during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

These proposals include:

  • The implementation of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA) in-person visit requirement for mental health services that either do not meet Medicare’s typical geographic restrictions or occur when the originating site is the patient’s home, regardless of geography
  • The ability for certain mental health services to be delivered via audio-only communications when patients are located in their homes (however, in these cases, the provider would also be required to comply with the in-person visit requirement described above)
  • The extension of coverage of the services temporarily added to the Medicare telehealth services list (Category 3 services) through the end of CY 2023 to allow more time for evaluation, and the rejection of proposed new, permanent Medicare telehealth services
  • The permanent adoption of HCPCS Code G2252 for extended virtual check-ins, which was established on an interim basis in the CY 2021 MPFS.

Read the full article here.




CMS Takes a Preliminary Step to Make Certain COVID-19 Waivers Permanent

On August 4, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a proposed rule to update its payment policies under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) for calendar year 2021. The proposed rule was issued in tandem with a presidential executive order, which directed the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to propose regulations expanding telehealth services covered by Medicare. CMS stated that the proposed rule “is one of several proposed rules that reflect a broader Administration-wide strategy to create a health care system that results in better accessibility, quality, affordability, empowerment, and innovation.”

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency (PHE), CMS has issued several temporary waivers and flexibilities that expand telehealth reimbursement under Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program for the duration of the COVID-19 PHE. CMS issued these waivers under authorities granted pursuant to HHS’s public health declaration, as well as legislation passed in response to the pandemic. Many of these waivers have substantially altered the Medicare telehealth reimbursement landscape and, as we detailed in our prior On the Subject, many can be made permanent via regulatory action. The proposed rule represents the first official word that CMS will take such action to make certain of its waivers permanent. These policy changes have the potential to greatly increase the availability of telehealth to Medicare beneficiaries around the country.

CMS will accept comments, either electronically or by mail, on the proposed rule until 5 pm EDT on October 5, 2020.

Changes to Medicare Telehealth Services

CMS proposed to add several services, listed below, to its list of services that may be delivered via telehealth. Many of these were previously added on an interim final rule basis for the duration of the PHE. The proposed rule would keep them on the Medicare telehealth services list even after the PHE ends.

CMS also proposed a new method for adding or deleting services from the Medicare telehealth services list. Currently, CMS evaluates new services for inclusion based on two categories: Category 1 is for services that are similar to professional consultations, office visits and office psychiatry visits that are already on the Medicare telehealth services list, while Category 2 is for services that are not similar to those already on the list, but that would still be appropriate to include because the service is accurately described by the corresponding code when delivered via telehealth and providing the service via a telecommunications system results in clinical benefit for the patient. Because of the COVID-19 PHE, CMS has proposed to add a Category 3, which would include services that would be temporarily on the Medicare telehealth services list. CMS proposed this third category because, while CMS currently has the authority to waive or modify Medicare telehealth payment requirements during the PHE, that authority will expire once the PHE [...]

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Avoiding Confusion Over State Licensing Laws as CMS Further Loosens Telemedicine Restrictions

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) continues to loosen the conditions for participation in Medicare, as well as specific reimbursement requirements, to ensure facilities and practitioners are able to practice at the top of their license and across state lines without jeopardizing Medicare reimbursement. Unfortunately, as demonstrated when CMS took similar actions over the past few weeks in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, headlines tend to overlook one fundamental component of the applicable regulatory regime: state law requirements.

Unlike the Veterans Affairs Administration’s (VA’s) action a few years ago, which preempted state licensing law for purposes of implementing a VA telemedicine program, the Department of Health and Human Services has limited its actions during the COVID-19 pandemic to modifications of federal regulations and rules.  Secretary Alex Azar, in a letter to the Governors, instead encouraged the states to take action themselves to similarly loosen state laws to ensure maximum utilization of resources.  The states have been doing so, in some instances since early March, with different approaches. These differences stem from a large number of variables that are implicated by state licensure laws.

Key Takeaways: The practical implication for the provider community is that new standards for Medicare need to be adopted in harmony with existing state laws requirements, which, unfortunately, are not uniform across the country.  Nevertheless, nearly every state has taken action to loosen cross-border licensing restrictions for healthcare professionals and have modified other rules and regulations to help protect healthcare workers, maximize their numbers and help them practice at the highest level of their experience and training.  There is a national movement in this direction, but it remains a patchwork.

For a deeper dive into telemedicine regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit our Coronavirus Resource Center, which features articles, webinar recordings and videos on the telemedicine issues you need to know.




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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Around the Corner in Digital Health: What’s Next for Care Coordination & Reimbursement?

The end of 2018 and the first months of 2019 brought a number of regulatory developments impacting care coordination and the adoption and reimbursement of digital health services. From the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care and Pathways to Success initiatives to the updated Physician Fee Schedule, speakers Dale Van Demark and Lisa Schmitz Mazur discuss the rules and regulations that have the potential to enhance or hinder access to digital health solutions and how digital health companies can position themselves for success in this evolving regulatory landscape.

Click here to listen to this episode of the Of Digital Interest podcast. 




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.




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.




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 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.




Slow and Steady – CMS Expands Telehealth Reimbursement Opportunities in 2018

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.” (more…)




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