News: CMS makes some telehealth services permanent

CDI Strategies - Volume 14, Issue 55

CMS has made nine telehealth services permanent for Medicare and will extend payments for an additional 59 services beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) in the ongoing effort to expand remote healthcare access, HealthLeaders Media reported.

During the PHE, CMS added 144 services that Medicare will pay for. Nine of those services, including group psychotherapy and some visits for patients with cognitive impairments, will now become permanent Medicare telehealth benefits.

Medicare payments for another 59 services, including emergency department visits, critical care, and physical and occupational therapy, will be extended beyond the PHE while CMS evaluates the effect on care quality and outcomes, HealthLeaders Media reported.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said the extension of benefits is an acknowledgement of “the speed and effectiveness with which the American healthcare system has adapted to telehealth.”

According to CMS, before the COVID-19 public health emergency, only about 15,000 beneficiaries weekly received Medicare telemedicine visits. Between March and October, data has shown that more than 24 million Medicare beneficiaries used telehealth options, increasing dramatically from the pre-pandemic numbers.

The extension of these telehealth services will be limited to only rural areas because “CMS does not have the statutory authority to permanently cover telehealth for beneficiaries living outside rural areas, nor to generally allow beneficiaries to receive telehealth from their home unless there is congressional action,” HealthLeaders Media reported.

"These additions allow beneficiaries in rural areas who are in a medical facility to continue to have access to a range of telehealth services that we know work for them," Verma said.

"Without a change to statute, telehealth will revert to a rural benefit, albeit with a significantly expanded menu of services," Verma said. "Congress has the opportunity to make telehealth available to beneficiaries across the country and allow them to get telehealth services from the convenience of their home."

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in HealthLeaders Media. The CMS fact sheet can be found here.

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