Telehealth flexibilities and waivers have been expanded - Here's what you need to know.
The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) has prompted the healthcare industry to promote telehealth implementation well beyond its previous role. Many providers are now offering telehealth services to most of their patients thus mitigating the threat of exposure for their patients, themselves and their staff.
Many providers, prior to the current PHE, have tossed the idea around of providing telehealth services and some even provided limited services to their patients. A large population of providers, however, were not providing any telehealth services and very abruptly had to adapt to the new demands and challenges facing their practices; this became an existential necessity for them.
With the crisis in full swing and providers experiencing a comfort level with telehealth services, healthcare professionals are beginning to appreciate the benefits to both patients and practices.
Questions they are asking include how long will this wave last, and what will the healthcare landscape look like after it has passed?
Many providers hope to see some of the policies and waivers maintained after the PHE. It has become a viable and invaluable resource for patients who are sometimes unable to find transportation to a doctor or want to avoid possible exposure to other illnesses. Providers have found that the flexibility and increased communications associated with Telehealth are producing positive outcomes. They are recognizing telehealth as a viable means to increased positive outcomes in certain patient populations.
The American College of Physicians (ACP), the largest specialty organization and the second largest physician group in the United States published a June 4th open letter to CMS Administrator, Seema Verma. In the letter they praised CMS for their swift actions throughout the PHE in providing regulatory flexibilities allowing providers responding to, and containing the spread of, COVID-19. They asserted that the policy changes have allowed for increased access to, and usage of, telehealth services which have played a vital role in minimizing negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic while providing a source of much needed revenue for providers throughout the country.
ACP has urged CMS to extend the below policies and waivers through 2021 or until there are effective treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. In fact, they go further suggesting that the telehealth expansions be made permanent. The following waivers and policies are what they are pushing to have extended.
- Pay Parity for Audio-Only and Telehealth Services
- Geographical Site Restriction Waivers
- Telehealth Cost-Sharing Waivers
- Flexibilities in Direct Supervision by Physicians at Teaching Hospitals
- Revised Policies for Remote Patient Monitoring Services
- Interstate Licensure Flexibility for Telehealth and Promotion of State-Level Action
- Facility Fee Payment for Provider-based Departments
As of June 15, 2020, 29 Senators have sent a letter to congressional leadership asking that the changes be made permanent. The FTC identified six telehealth directives which they are promoting for extension beyond the pandemic. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the AMA are also calling on Congress to permanently lift restrictions.
While we don’t know what the future holds for telehealth it certainly looks hopeful. If nothing else, I feel this campaign might play out like the push for ICD-10 implementation. Anyone who lived through that remembers the many pushbacks prior to implementation. Who knows how long CMS will continue to extend the flexibilities for telehealth….only time will tell.
To read the full letter sent to CMS by the ACP click the link below.