As part of yesterday’s release of the 2021 Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule, CMS announced that the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency telehealth benefits would be made permanent. This is good news for providers trying to maintain a continuous standard of care for their patients, but many questions remain about long-term viability of telehealth. For many providers such as home health agencies, telehealth is not a billable unit of service and in many cases simply can not replace an in-person visit. The final rule is a good start but more action is needed for many providers to be able to use telehealth effectively and profitably.
According to CMS: “Before the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE), only 15,000 Fee-for-Service beneficiaries each week received a Medicare telemedicine service. Since the beginning of the PHE, CMS has added 144 telehealth services, such as emergency department visits, initial inpatient and nursing facility visits, and discharge day management services, that are covered by Medicare through the end of the PHE. These services were added to allow for safe access to important health care services during the PHE. As a result, preliminary data show that between mid-March and mid-October 2020, over 24.5 million out of 63 million beneficiaries and enrollees have received a Medicare telemedicine service during the PHE.”
CMS is also studying the impact of telehealth and what services can be added to the approved list in the future. In all likelihood the list will increase and telehealth utilization across all provider types will continue to grow.