On Wednesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it was taking further steps to make permanent President Donald Trump’s executive order expanding Medicare Services to include telehealth.
In its annual Physician Fee Schedule final rule, CMS said it would be increasing payment to physicians and other healthcare practitioners for the additional time they spend with patients. The move lets non-physician practitioners spend more time with patients and cut red tape, the agency said.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, actions by the Trump Administration have unleashed an explosion in telehealth innovation, and we’re now moving to make many of these changes permanent,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Medicare beneficiaries will now be able to receive dozens of new services via telehealth, and we’ll keep exploring ways to deliver Americans access to healthcare in the setting that they and their doctor decide makes sense for them.”
According to CMS, before the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 15,000 patients received a Medicare telehealth service each week. But since the beginning of the pandemic, CMS said, the agency added more than 140 telehealth services – like emergency department visits, initial inpatients, and nursing facility visits. The agency said preliminary data shows that more than 24.5 million of the 63 million Medicare beneficiaries and enrollees have received services through telemedicine between mid-March and mid-October.
“Telehealth has long been a priority for the Trump Administration, which is why we started paying for short virtual visits in rural areas long before the pandemic struck,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “But the pandemic accentuated just how transformative it could be, and several months in, it’s clear that the healthcare system has adapted seamlessly to a historic telehealth expansion that inaugurates a new era in healthcare delivery.”
The final rule by CMS adds another 60 services to the Medicare telehealth list and ensures Medicare will cover them after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.