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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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Preparing Your Data for a Post-COVID-19 World

The US healthcare system’s data infrastructure needs an overhaul to prepare for future health crises, streamline patient care, improve data sharing and accessibility among patients, providers and government entities, and move toward the delivery of coordinated care. With insights from leaders from Arcadia, Validic and McDermott, we recently discussed key analyses and updates on the interoperability and application programming interfaces (API) criteria from the 21st Century Cures Act, stakeholder benefits of healthcare data exchange and data submission facilitation for public health purposes. Click here to listen to the webinar recording, and read on for highlights from the program.

To learn more about the “Around the Corner” webinar series and attend an upcoming program, click here.

PROGRAM INSIGHTS

  • COVID-19 is reshaping healthcare through technology. Hospitals, clinicians and payors need to use digital health tools to address the challenges of the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health pandemic. How COVID-19 data and health information are captured, and then move through electronic systems, will form the foundation by which digital health tools can become effective in identifying cases, treating them and ensuring favorable outcomes.
  • API certification requirements under the 21st Century Cures Act are designed to enhance the accessibility of electronic health information. The 21st Century Cures Act’s purpose is to advance interoperability, address information blocking, support seamless exchange of electronic health information and promote patient access. Putting data from electronic health records (EHRs) into patients’ hands through consumer-facing apps will empower them to understand and take control of their health.
  • EHR vendors will be required to offer APIs that comply with the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) standard by May 1, 2022. The 21st Century Cures Act Final Rule will require EHR vendors to offer FHIR based APIs that make electronic health information more readily available to third-party applications (apps) of patients’ and providers’ choosing. API standardization will make it easier for third-party developers to build these apps, and for patients and providers wishing to use third-party apps to leverage their electronic health information for various purposes, including health information exchange and population health management.

 

  • Interoperability refers to the standards that make it possible for different EHR systems to exchange patient medical records and information between providers. Increased interoperability between EHR systems using harmonized standards allows for a more seamless transfer of patient data between providers. The interoperability requirements in the 21st Century Cures Act have the potential to advance patient access to their data and the use of information among physicians.
  • Both providers and patients can drive data exchange. One challenge impacting data exchange between patients and providers is that providers cannot always access or integrate data that patients have created with third-party tools (e.g., fitness trackers). However, there is emerging technology designed to aggregate and standardize consumer-generated health information, enabling the [...]

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Round Two: Significant Telehealth Expansion Re-Proposed in Bipartisan Senate Bill

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. (more…)




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