The pandemic pushed Medicare and other insurance providers to expand telehealth services. But will this expansion become permanent or return to pre-COVID-19 practices and regulations?
In March 2022, Congress extended the telehealth guidelines which were initially created to remedy issues created from the COVID-19 pandemic. The five-month extension of telehealth services was part of a 1.5 trillion-dollar omnibus legislation that extended funding for federal public health emergencies. Without this extension, the funding for increased telemedicine services due to the pandemic would have mostly expired in April 2022.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022 was passed by Congress and officially signed into law by the President on March 15, 2022. The extension of telehealth services allows individuals to continue receiving care from home at the same level of care as during the pandemic.
Before the onset of the corona virus pandemic, there were greater restrictions placed on Medicare services delivered through telehealth technologies. But COVID-19 increased the amount of people who were afraid to seek medical care in-person. In response to the public health emergency, Medicare updated its coverage policy and expanded what was included in telehealth services. Many healthcare practitioners and patient advocates would like to see this expanded coverage and additional funding made a permanent fixture of telemedicine services.
For example, the use of newer telemedicine technologies has expanded access to behavioral health treatment options. This in turn, has allowed healthcare professionals to treat a greater number of patients.
However, some members of Congress and other industry specialist have raised concerns about medical fraud and abuse. Due to these concerns, federal officials temporarily extended the initial pandemic funding but did not make the current rules a permanent policy. The extension of funding for telemedicine services will grant federal officials more time to gather data and analyze the overall cost.
Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and rural health clinics (RHCs) received an extension of their services. They are now able to serve as distant sites for healthcare practitioners for an additional 151 days after the official expiration of the public health emergency.
Some of the other key features of the new regulation includes:
- Medicare will still provide insurance coverage for telehealth services for at least 151 days after the public health emergency officially ends.
- Medicare will continue to cover all telehealth visits that take place in a patients’ home as well as in a medical facility.
- Expands telehealth services to include speech-language pathologists, audiologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists.
- Delays the requirement for individuals to have an in-person visit six months after receiving mental health treatments via telehealth technology.
- Allows Medicare-enrolled medical providers to submit billing for telehealth services.
The passing of the 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act was a good piece of news for most medical providers and patients. Other recent legislation acts have also increased funding and coverage.
In March 2020, lawmakers passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which provided relief financial assistance to both workers and businesses. Other financial beneficial legislation includes the Consolidation Appropriations Act, which was also signed into law in 2020. This act expanded funding for municipal, tribal and state governments.
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