On March 17, 2020, President Trump announced the expansion of Medicare telehealth coverage to allow providers to virtually visit with Medicare beneficiaries amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The telehealth benefits expansion is in accordance with the President’s emergency declaration under the Stafford Act and the recently passed Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. By expanding telehealth benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, the Trump administration hopes to alleviate pressure on healthcare facilities that deal with urgent cases and ensure that elderly beneficiaries may seek care while minimizing exposure to the virus.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Medicare only covered telehealth services for “virtual check-ins” and routine visits for beneficiaries in rural areas and at certain facilities. Now CMS will temporarily pay clinicians to provide broad telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries with dates of service on or after March 6th.
A range of healthcare providers, including doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, may offer telehealth to Medicare beneficiaries, who may receive office visits, mental health counseling and preventive health screenings via telehealth. Beneficiaries will be able to receive telehealth services in any healthcare facility including a physician’s office, hospital, nursing home or rural health clinic, as well as from their homes.
The Trump administration is also relaxing privacy enforcement to let providers video chat with Medicare beneficiaries on popular platforms, including FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, and Skype, via their phones rather than established telehealth platforms. The Office for Civil Rights, which enforces HIPAA, will use discretion in collecting penalties for good faith use of telehealth during the national public health emergency, even if the services are not provided through HIPAA-compliant technology.
“President Trump Expands Telehealth Benefits for Medicare Beneficiaries During COVID-19 Outbreak,” U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, March 17, 2020
“Medicare Telemedicine Health Care Provider Fact Sheet,” U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, March 17, 2020
“Notification of Enforcement Discretion for telehealth remote communications during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency,” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Content last reviewed on March 17, 2020