In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced that it has increased access to Medicare telehealth services. This means that Medicare beneficiaries can receive more benefits from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility.
The terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” refer to the ability to exchange medical information from one site to another through electronic communication to improve a patient’s health. With the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases, there is the urgency to expand the use of technology to help people who need routine care. Telehealth will keep vulnerable beneficiaries and those with mild symptoms in their home, but with access to the care they need by phone and video rather than requiring an office visit.
Prior to this change, Medicare would only pay for telehealth on a limited basis, and only for persons in a designated rural area. Now Medicare beneficiaries will be able to receive the following services through telehealth: common office visits, mental health counseling, and preventive health screenings. This will help keep more of the at-risk population (Medicare beneficiaries) able to visit with a doctor from home, rather than traveling to a doctor’s office or hospital which puts the beneficiary and others at risk. Telehealth visits will be treated the same as regular, in-person visits and will be paid by Medicare at the same rates.
These changes went into effect for services starting March 6, 2020 and will continue for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. For more information, view the fact sheet prepared by CMS.
Better access to telehealth is a big step in getting Medicare beneficiaries appropriate care in the least restrictive way. If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact one of our two offices by calling us at (718) 237-2707.