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Coronavirus/COVID-19: Telehealth and Other Communication-Based Technology Services During Emergency Periods

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) has led the country to search for innovative solutions to contain the spread of Coronavirus, without sacrificing the U.S. population’s access to medical care. Healthcare providers’ ability to render telehealth services is more important than ever, as the States continue to implement strict quarantine measures in effort to contain Coronavirus. Although, as of now, CMS guidance on telemedicine remains unchanged – Medicare continues to reimburse providers for “virtual check-ins” for most Medicare patients, and limits full visits via communication technology to rural areas – the Federal government is taking proactive steps to relax the telehealth requirements during the period of the national health emergency and increase its availability to all Medicare beneficiaries.

Under the Telehealth Services During Certain Emergency Periods Act of 2020, which is part of the bipartisan Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020, the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) is authorized to temporarily waive or modify certain restrictions on Medicare telehealth coverage in an effort to contain Coronavirus.
The key telehealth requirements the HSS may temporarily waive are as follows:
  • The originating site and geographic requirements, which essentially limit the providers’ ability to render telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas. Temporarily lifting the above requirements would allow qualified providers to provide telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries located in an identified “emergency area” during an “emergency period”. Since President Trump declared a nationwide public health emergency, the waiver would apply across the U.S., until such time as the emergency is no longer in effect.
  • The interactive telecommunications requirements, which prohibit the use of telephones. Temporarily lifting this restriction would allow Medicare beneficiaries to receive telehealth services via their phones, provided such phones have audio and video capabilities that allow for real-time, two-way interaction between the provider and the beneficiary.

As of the date of this bulletin, HHS has not made a certification to Congress to activate the waiver of the above-referenced telehealth requirements. If the waiver of the telehealth requirements is certified, HHS may implement the waiver retroactively to the date of the declaration of the emergency, which in this case is January 31, 2020. Healthcare providers should closely monitor the changes in the certification and the availability of the above waiver.

For additional information concerning rapidly evolving changes to Medicare policies, you may wish to visit CMS’ Current Emergencies Page.
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