Telehealth Coverage Included in Coronavirus Spending Bill
Congressional leaders have agreed on a massive funding bill to address the coronavirus that authorizes Medicare to waive geographical restrictions on telehealth.
March 04, 2020 – Congressional leaders have agreed to a coronavirus response bill that will allow Medicare reimbursement for care providers using telehealth to treat seniors at home.
The emergency spending deal, announced today and pending a vote in both the House and Senate, will waive Medicare’s geographical restrictions on telehealth during a public health emergency, enabling providers to use telehealth in urban and rural areas as well as in the patient’s home – all defined within the scope of an “emergency area.”. It also loosens restrictions on the use of a telephone to deliver care, as long as that phone has audio-visual capabilities.
“To protect public health, the bill will allow Medicare providers to extend telemedicine services to seniors regardless of where they live, at an estimated cost of $500 million,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement released today.
The provision in the new bill is called the “Telehealth Services During Certain Emergency Periods Act of 2020.”
Several organizations, including the American Telemedicine Association, the Alliance for Connected Care and the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), had lobbied Congress in recent days to include the Medicare provision, lifted from the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, which was reintroduced last October.
“Including this provision in the upcoming supplemental legislation will encourage health systems and others to leverage telehealth in their communities, allowing for critical care connections,” the ACC said in its letter. “This expanded capacity will help preserve access to in-person care for those in critical need and allow the majority of initial screenings to happen outside the hospital.”
“Telehealth can improve access to care, speed diagnosis and treatment, and limit the risk of person-to-person spread of the virus,” ATA CEO Ann Mond Johnson said in a separate letter. “We believe Congress should provide the Administration with as many tools as possible, including the ability to waive Medicare restrictions on telehealth to give health care professionals the support they need to effectively meet the urgent health needs of their communities.”
“Many ATA members are already playing a key role in addressing this public health emergency, enabling the timely and effective treatment of patients in quarantine and at home with telehealth and virtual care technologies,” she added. “We are inspired by the response of our members and remain committed to working with HHS and the CDC to stem the growing public concern and combat the spread of COVID-19.”
According to Politico, the spending bill allocates about $6.5 billion to the US Department of Health and Human Services, including $2.2 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address state and local preparedness. Some of that money will likely be used by healthcare providers to extend telehealth and mHealth platforms to reduce crowding in hospitals, treat isolated patients and facilitate remote patient monitoring programs.