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Staying Connected: An Update on Medicare Reimbursement for Telehealth Services After the PHE

In hopes that the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) will soon end, Congress and the administration are evaluating the telehealth expansions and flexibilities put in place to respond to the PHE. As a result, the future for telehealth stakeholders remains uncertain. This article outlines various changes in Medicare telehealth reimbursement policy in effect during the PHE and identifies what actions would be required to make these changes permanent.

Since the implementation of the PHE, there has been a significant uptick in the provision of telehealth services by Medicare, other public payers and commercial payers. In response to this increased utilization and outreach by stakeholders, Congress has actively explored ways to make some, or all, of the PHE flexibilities permanent.

During the PHE, telehealth providers have been able to receive reimbursement for a greater variety of telehealth services, leverage more types of healthcare providers, and treat patients in more locations than ever before. Telehealth providers have been energized by these changes and are voicing resistance to the prospect of losing these new reimbursement opportunities post-PHE.

The pathways to making telehealth flexibilities permanent, however, are neither simple nor clear. Reimbursement for telehealth services is governed by complex statutory, regulatory and subregulatory requirements at the state and federal level. At the federal level, the PHE-driven changes have come via both federal legislation and regulatory modifications. This article describes what steps would be necessary to make federal telehealth reimbursement policy changes permanent as the healthcare system recovers and rebuilds from the COVID-19 pandemic.

CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE FULL REPORT.




Dash to Digital Health? How the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care Could Expand Access to Care

Certain long-standing laws, such as the civil monetary penalty provision prohibiting patient inducements, have hampered providers’ ability to fully leverage remote patient monitoring and other telehealth tools. Many stakeholders are hoping that developments in the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care will begin the rulemaking process to enable greater access to digital health and virtual care products.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care in 2018 with the goal of reducing regulatory burden and incentivizing coordinated care. As part of this initiative, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and other agencies are scrutinizing a variety of long-standing regulatory requirements and prohibitions to determine whether they unnecessarily hinder the innovative arrangements policy-makers are otherwise hoping to see develop. While regulations such as the civil monetary penalty prohibition on patient inducements have significant benefits for reducing fraud and abuse, they can also make it difficult for health systems to deploy digital tools that help patients track, monitor and share health data with their providers.

For example, Medicare reimbursement of digital health and virtual care products, while expanded in 2018, is still limited. This means that if a provider wants to use un-reimbursed technology, the provider must either charge the patient separately for the non-reimbursable service or provide the service to the patient for free. The former option is tricky—it can result in surprise charges for patients, and digital health services can be part of a care service plan and difficult to break out separately as a standalone billable service. As a result, many providers would prefer to offer virtual care services to the patient for free, but doing so immediately implicates the civil monetary penalties prohibition. Substantial time, effort and cost is required to evaluate the facts and circumstances, understand the available regulatory guidance and case law, and determine whether the provision of the service—which results in no increase in revenue—could result in governmental scrutiny

This is just one example of how certain long-standing regulations have become a barrier to broad adoption of digital health. If HHS chooses to update these regulations or issue additional guidance, the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care could bring digital health technologies such as telehealth and virtual care products off the sidelines and into the race.

Read more at McDermott’s Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care Resource Center




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. 




Digital Health Drives Forward – A Roadmap of Regulations

New digital health regulations arose at the federal and state level in 2018, bolstering the existing legal framework to further support and encourage digital health adoption in the context of care coordination and the move to value-based payment. McDermott’s 2018 Digital Health Year in Review: Focus on Care Coordination and Reimbursement report – the second in a four-part series – highlighted these developments within the digital health landscape. These efforts brought changes to coverage of telehealth and other virtual care services, as well as information gathering for regulatory reform, and can help bridge the gap between research, funding and implementation as regulations build a framework within which companies can deploy their products, receive reimbursement and demonstrate value to patients. Here we outline digital health developments from the second half of 2018 and how they can help drive digital health forward in 2019. For a closer look at key care coordination and reimbursement developments that shaped digital health in 2018, along with planning considerations and predictions for the digital health frontier in the year ahead, download our full report.

To view the first report in the series, 2018 Digital Health Year in Review: Focus on Data, click here.




Telemedicine – The New Standard of Care

Across the health care sector, telemedicine is naturally and strategically being integrated into health care delivery and treatment plans as targeted and efficient solutions to specific health issues by hospitals, medical groups and drug-to-consumer telemedicine companies.

Telemedicine is no longer viewed as a secondary option for care—it is a new standard of care that is both expected by patients and popular with providers. Consumers expect to see health care adapt—like many other industries already have—to fit within their daily lives and schedules. Whether it’s electronic check-in procedures or better automated systems, health care providers are beginning to treat their patients a little bit more like customers, and see telemedicine and patient engagement tools as a means of improving customer loyalty and engagement while reducing costs.

However, complex billing structure and payor and reimbursement issues can create significant hurdles for health care providers looking to advance telemedicine programs. Telemedicine billing requires special attention, and if not enough consideration is given on the front end of programs, organizations may be surprised to find that that something they thought was a billable service is, in fact, not.

The Bipartisan Budget Act, which provided for the reimbursement of the distance provider, significantly increased the telemedicine use cases that are approved under the Medicare reimbursement structure. However, because Congress will now pay for it, there is a new expectation that hospitals that do not have particular areas of expertise available on-site will investigate opportunities to incorporate a telehealth programs that ensure adequate patient care.

The standard of care continues to improve as patients have greater access to  nationwide physicians and  as new technology like telestroke and clinical decision support tools become more widely available. For example, a stroke neurologist in one New York can now diagnose a stroke patient in Florida, and then facilitate an emergency room physician to treat that stroke. Telestroke programs check off all of the right boxes: better quality care, better access to care, and overall lower cost of care.

As use cases like this continue to be integrated into health care delivery and familiarity builds around how telemedicine can be used effectively, expectations shift around the standard of care and new questions arise around the risks of integrating—or failing to integrate—telehealth programs. If the tools are available and easily accessible, and if there is a supportive reimbursement model, how much a part of the standard of care does telemedicine become and what is the risk of failing to embrace these tools? If hospitals choose not to implement telehealth programs, and then patients suffer harm as a result, for example a delayed diagnosis and treatment of a stroke, could that lead to increased medical malpractice suits or other types of liability?

In the newest episode of the Of Digital Interest podcast, McDermott Digital Health partners, Lisa Schmitz Mazur and Dale Van Demark, share their perspectives on these questions and the various barriers, risks and opportunities associated with the rise of telemedicine and other technological advancements in health care delivery. Access this [...]

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Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 Includes Significant Changes in Medicare, Other Federal Health Programs

On February 9, 2018 after a brief shutdown, Congress passed and President Trump signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, a two-year budget agreement that includes funding for the operation of the federal government until March 23, 2018. The law includes significant health care policy changes impacting Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health agencies. In addition to raising federal spending caps enacted in the Budget Control Act of 2011, this legislation includes additional spending for health care priorities. Here we break down some of the changes affecting telehealth.

Expanded Access to Telehealth Stroke Services

The new law expands, beginning in 2019, the ability of patients presenting with stroke symptoms at hospitals or mobile stroke units to receive a timely telehealth consultation with a neurologist in order to determine the best course of treatment. The provision eliminates the current geographic restriction that limits originating sites to rural areas, meaning distant site providers delivering telestroke services could receive a professional fee for delivering the consultation to patients located anywhere in the United States, provided that the other Medicare telehealth coverage requirements are satisfied (e.g., type of provider, type of technology). (more…)




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