Telehealth Update: A Federal Appropriations Bill, A Positive OIG Report, and Good News from HHS

Final week noticed a number of nice information on the earth of telehealth. On March 15, President Biden signed into legislation H.R. 2471, the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022”, which extends most of the Medicare telehealth flexibilities put in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a interval following the tip of the Public Well being Emergency (PHE). The identical day, the Workplace of Inspector Common (OIG) issued a report highlighting the constructive influence telehealth had on rising entry for beneficiaries throughout the first yr of the pandemic. Then, throughout a press convention on March 18, the Division of Well being & Human Companies (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra stated that HHS will search to maintain and develop entry to telehealth companies after the PHE ends. Whereas these developments sign the continued growth of telehealth, there’s nonetheless some uncertainty surrounding protection, reimbursement and licensure flexibilities which have allowed telehealth to flourish for the previous two years.

The “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022” included plenty of provisions associated to Medicare protection of telehealth companies. Particularly, the next Medicare waivers can be prolonged for 151 days following the tip of the PHE:

  • Originating Web site: Permits Medicare beneficiaries to obtain telehealth companies from any geographic location, together with their dwelling.

  • Enlargement of Eligible Practitioners: Permits bodily therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and audiologists to offer telehealth companies to Medicare beneficiaries.

  • Federally Certified Well being Facilities (FQHCs) and Rural Well being Clinics (RHCs): Permits FQHCs and RHCs to proceed offering telehealth companies.

  • In-person Requirement for Psychological Well being: Waives the requirement for psychological well being suppliers to see sufferers in individual previous to offering behavioral well being companies through telehealth.

  • Audio-only: Permits Medicare protection of audio-only companies when applicable.

These extensions will give Congress the chance to cross the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act, or in any other case make the flexibilities everlasting, or alternatively, give suppliers time to arrange for a return to in-person care.

The OIG report bolsters these Congressional Actions, asserting that “telehealth was critical for providing services to Medicare beneficiaries during the first year of the pandemic.” The OIG discovered 43%, or greater than 2 out of each 5 Medicare beneficiaries used telehealth throughout the first yr of the pandemic. Whereas workplace visits had been essentially the most prevalent sort of service accessed throughout this time, the OIG highlighted the vital function telehealth performed in rising entry to behavioral well being companies for Medicare beneficiaries. All through the report, the OIG urged CMS, Congress and different stakeholders to contemplate the vital function telehealth performed in rising entry to companies when choices are made concerning the way forward for telehealth. The OIG additionally referenced two forthcoming experiences associated to using telehealth throughout the pandemic, which we are going to spotlight right here as quickly as they’re out there.

Throughout a press convention on the finish of this very busy week, HHS Secretary Becerra commented that HHS will do what it will possibly to maintain and proceed to develop entry to telehealth following the tip of the PHE. Secretary Becerra has beforehand expressed his assist for everlasting telehealth expansions that can enhance entry to telehealth, together with taking steps to scale back obstacles to care amongst those that want it most.

Regardless of all of this excellent news, the “telehealth cliff” nonetheless looms for sure suppliers and sufferers. For instance, with out additional motion by Congress or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), telehealth suppliers who prescribe managed substances might want to conduct an in-person examination of the affected person as soon as the PHE ends. Whereas an in-person examination is acceptable and vital to fulfill the usual of care in some conditions, underneath most circumstances, the requirement does little greater than pose a barrier to much-needed care. The American Telemedicine Association and different trade teams have been advocating vigorously for Congress and the DEA to take away the requirement for a previous in-person analysis completely post-pandemic. We are going to proceed to observe these developments, together with the extra OIG experiences on telehealth which can be anticipated to be launched within the close to future.

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