OIG: Telehealth “Critical” to Maintaining Access to Care Amidst COVID-19

The federal Workplace of Inspector Normal (OIG) just lately revealed a report (OIG Report) as a part of a collection of analyses of the growth and utilization of telehealth in response to the COVID-19 public well being emergency.  In its report, the OIG concludes that telehealth was “critical for providing services to Medicare beneficiaries during the first year of the pandemic” and that the utilization of telehealth “demonstrates the long-term potential of telehealth to increase access to health care for beneficiaries.” The OIG’s conclusions are notable as a result of they arrive at a time when policymakers and well being care stakeholders are figuring out whether or not and the way to make everlasting sure expansions of telehealth for sufferers nationwide.

The OIG Report relies on Medicare claims and encounter knowledge from the “first” yr of the pandemic (March 1, 2020 by February 28, 2021) as in contrast to knowledge for the instantly previous yr (March 1, 2019 by February 29, 2020). Per the OIG Report, the OIG noticed that roughly 43% of Medicare beneficiaries used telehealth through the first yr of the pandemic, and that workplace visits had been the commonest telehealth encounter for these sufferers. The telehealth utilization knowledge confirmed an 88-fold enhance over the utilization of telehealth companies for the prior yr, which partly displays the numerous limitations on telehealth reimbursement underneath Medicare prior to COVID-19, as well as to the numerous regulatory growth of telehealth on the federal and state ranges in response to COVID-19.

Apparently, the OIG Report states that beneficiaries enrolled in a Medicare Benefit plan “were more likely to use telehealth” than Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries, and that “CMS’s temporary policy changes enabled the monumental growth in the use of telehealth in multiple ways,” together with by increasing the permissible affected person places, and the kinds of companies that might be supplied by way of telehealth. As well as, the OIG indicated that the usage of telehealth for behavioral well being companies by beneficiaries “stands out” due to the upper incidence of beneficiaries accessing these companies by way of telehealth, which can in flip affect policymaking and enhance entry to crucial behavioral well being care companies.

Lastly, the OIG Report notably features a footnote which signifies {that a} separate report on “Program Integrity Risks” is forthcoming, which can make clear corresponding compliance issues which have arisen in reference to the numerous growth of telehealth in response to COVID-19.

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