CMS to Cover Telehealth During COVID-19 Outbreak

March 17, 2020

Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced expanded Medicare telehealth coverage, under the 1135 waiver authority, that will enable beneficiaries to receive a wider range of healthcare services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility. Beginning March 6, Medicare will temporarily pay clinicians to provide telehealth services for beneficiaries residing across the entire country. Prior to this announcement, Medicare was only allowed to pay clinicians for telehealth services such as routine visits in certain circumstances.

CMS says Medicare beneficiaries will be able to receive various services through telehealth including common office visits, mental health counseling, and preventive health screenings. This will help ensure Medicare beneficiaries, who are at a higher risk for COVID-19, are able to visit with their doctor from their home, without having to go to a doctor’s office or hospital which puts themselves or others at risk. This change broadens telehealth flexibility without regard to the diagnosis of the beneficiary, because at this critical point it is important to ensure beneficiaries are following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention including practicing social distancing to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. CMS noted that this change will help prevent vulnerable beneficiaries from unnecessarily entering a healthcare facility when their needs can be met remotely.  

A CMS Medicare telehealth fact sheet and FAQs document have additional information.

Meanwhile, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a Notification of Enforcement Discretion for telehealth services during the COVID-19 national emergency. A covered healthcare provider who wants to use audio or video communication technology to provide telehealth to patients during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency can use any non-public facing remote communication product that is available to communicate with patients. The notice describes how OCR will exercise its enforcement discretion to not impose penalties for noncompliance with the regulatory requirements under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Rules against covered health care providers in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.

The Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) has developed a COVID-19 telehealth fact sheet summarizing telehealth policy on the federal and state level. This document will be updated as new developments take place. CCHP advises users to check the “Timestamp” to ensure the latest version is being viewed.