Telehealth Coverage Expands With COVID-19 Bill

It is official, congressional leaders have agreed to move forward with the “Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020.” Pending a vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate, this bill will help providers receive reimbursement through Medicare fee-for-service for delivering care via telehealth to citizens in their homes. This bill waives the previously set geographical restrictions regarding the use of telehealth during a public health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic and is called the “Telehealth Services During Certain Emergency Periods Act of 2020.” President Trump announced that Beginning March 6th, 2020 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will temporarily be offering reimbursement to eligible clinicians to provide telehealth services for beneficiaries residing across the country.

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi released a statement saying, “to protect public health, the bill will allow Medicare providers to extend telemedicine services to seniors regardless of where they live.”

The bill enables providers to offer telehealth services to patients by phone, but only when that phone is enabled for audio-video interaction between the qualified provider and the beneficiary for “two-way, real-time interactive communication.” This is limited to qualified providers who have established Medicare services to the individual in the past three years prior to the telehealth visit.

How Can Telehealth Help Practices Offer Their Patient Safe Access to Care?

1) Vulnerable Populations

Those who are young and healthy are more likely to recover from the virus should they contract it, but this is not the case for other vulnerable populations. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, vulnerable populations like senior citizens or anyone who suffers from a weakened immune system have the most to lose if they encounter the virus.

Hospitals and practices are struggling to allocate resources like beds, masks, and more to cover the number of people seeking care from their facilities. This is not only for patients seeking care for COVID-19, but also for people who need regularly scheduled care, like senior citizens or those with chronic diseases.

Telehealth offers a solution for these patients, making it possible for them to still visit with their providers without having to leave their homes. This allows them to avoid the risk of encountering the disease in public or in your offices, while still receiving the care they need.

2) Patients Suspected to Have COVID-19

The most important thing we can do as a nation to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is to practice social distancing and self-quarantine. For patients who suspect they might have come into contact with the virus or might have the disease, going to the doctor will only put more people at risk.

The symptoms of COVID-19 resemble that of a cold or the flu. If your patients are experiencing these symptoms, coming into your office with a cough or a runny nose can quickly spread the virus to other surfaces and other patients.

Telehealth offers a way to keep patients, who suspect they could have the disease, in their homes to consult with their physician. You, as the provider, can instruct your patient on the next steps to take, via telehealth. Whether they need to visit a certified testing facility or practice self-quarantine, telehealth helps you offer safe access to care for both patients who might have COVID-19 and patients who face a high risk should they come into contact with it.

To learn more about how your practice can utilize telehealth services to help patients during COVID-19, click here.