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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 that permits real-time communication between them—telephones, fax machines and email do not meet this requirement; and
  • The CPT/HCPCs code for the service is on the list of covered Medicare telehealth services.

The bill gives the secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the authority to waive the originating site requirement for telehealth services provided to Medicare beneficiaries located in any identified emergency area during emergency periods by a qualified provider. An “emergency area” is a geographical area in which, and an “emergency period” is the period during which, there exists: (a) an emergency or disaster declared by the president pursuant to the National Emergencies Act or the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act; and (b) a public health emergency declared by the secretary. The bill also allows telehealth services to be provided to Medicare beneficiaries via phone, but only if the phone allows for audio-video interaction between the provider and the beneficiary.

The bill takes important steps to allow healthcare providers to deploy telehealth resources in response to COVID-19 and other public health emergencies, and allows Medicare beneficiaries to receive telehealth services from the comfort of their home (even via their smart phone) without risk of exposure. While the bill represents a further step in the expansion of the availability of telehealth services, we should be careful not to overstate its impact. The waiver of the originating site requirement and expansion of telemedicine modalities is limited to emergency areas identified by the president and secretary during emergency periods. Accordingly, as a practical matter, this expansion of availability of telehealth reimbursement is very limited. In addition, healthcare providers must still comply with state laws and regulations that govern telehealth, including, but not limited to, professional licensure, scope of practice, standard of care, patient consent and other reimbursement requirements for non-Medicare beneficiaries.

The bill offers a welcome relaxation of the rigid Medicare requirements for telehealth reimbursement during a time of stress within the healthcare industry. It also represents another, albeit small, step in the gradual acceptance of telehealth within the healthcare reimbursement sector.




Virtual Care Advancement | Outlook on CHRONIC Care Act and Other Federal Legislation

The Senate’s unanimous passage of the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017 (S.870) on September 26th is an encouraging step forward for modernizing telehealth access and reimbursement. The bipartisan, budget-neutral bill aims to improve health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries living with chronic conditions and includes key provisions expanding access to telehealth. A summary of the key telehealth provisions under the CHRONIC Care Act can be found here.

The bill now moves to the House Subcommittee on Health and may be adopted in its current form or integrated into existing House bills. The House has already advanced three separate bills this year with telehealth provisions similar to those included in the CHRONIC Care Act: expanding telehealth services under Medicare Advantage (HR 3727), expanding telehealth for stroke patients (HR 1148), and expanding the use of telehealth to facilitate the use of home dialysis (HR 3178). With seemingly aligned goals between the two chambers, the House may accept the remaining provisions of the CHRONIC Care Act, or negotiate minor changes and incorporate the CHRONIC Care Act into another priority health care related bill, such as extending federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as a vehicle for passage this calendar year.

The recent momentum of federal legislation focused on expanding telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries signals Congress’ continued consideration of telehealth’s ability to improve patient health and lower the costs of health care delivery. In light of this increased legislative activity, health care providers, commercial payers and telehealth technology companies should be mindful of the following.

  • Consider developing or participating in studies designed to test the efficacy and efficiency (including costs) of telemedicine programs.
  • Continue exploring ways to tailor their care delivery and revenue models to provide telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries.
  • Offer Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and MedPAC insights and guidance on ways to provide the Federal government agencies overseeing Medicare coverage and payment for telehealth services the best available industry information.
  • Focus operational goals to achieve cost and value goals that are of concern to the government.



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