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CMS Expands Support for Telehealth Services

December 03, 2020

On Tuesday, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new rule that included key provisions to protect the recent advancements made in providing and receiving health care utilizing telehealth technologies. The COVID-19 pandemic exponentially accelerated the growth in telehealth, and expanding access to it has been an integral part of the Trump Administration’s Executive Order on Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors.

On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency in response to COVID-19. The declaration triggered the ability for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary to provide Section 1135 waivers. Section 1135 allows the HHS Secretary to temporarily waive or modify certain Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program requirements to ensure that sufficient health care items and services are available to meet the needs of individuals enrolled in those programs. These waivers included provisions that allowed the addition of more than 140 telehealth services including emergency department visits, initial inpatient and nursing facility visits, and discharge day management services.

Before the pandemic, roughly 15,000 Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries received a telehealth service each week. During the pandemic, the flexibilities created by the administration allowed for more than 24.5 million out of 63 million beneficiaries to receive telehealth services between mid-March and mid-October.

The rule adds a list of more than 60 telehealth services that will be covered by Medicare beyond the existing emergency. While CMS is limited in its authority to pay for telehealth for beneficiaries outside rural areas or in certain settings, the agency believes this is an important step in broadening access to these services. CMS also announced that they have commissioned a study of the telehealth flexibilities that were granted during this time that will be used to explore new opportunities for telehealth services.

HAP strongly supports the expansion of telehealth and continues to champion efforts to maintain regulatory waivers and flexibilities at the federal and state level.

For additional information, contact Kate Slatt, HAP’s vice president, innovative payment and care delivery.