GAO tells Congress to halt expanding telehealth until there's more research

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The Government Accountability Office testified in front of Congress that government agencies should wait until after the pandemic, when there is more research, before expanding telehealth coverage for Medicare and Medicaid programs, according to a May 19 report.

Telehealth capabilities were vital during the start of the pandemic, but now it's deemed safe to return to a physician's office. Some officials from GAO are concerned that there have not been enough studies proving that virtual visits are just as effective as in-person visits. 

In addition, telehealth visits can increase CMS' spending if virtual visits are reimbursed the same as in-person visits. There is also an increased risk of fraud, waste and abuse that GAO has previously noted because some program safeguards have been suspended.

"The long-term effect of these waivers on spending and quality of care is not yet known," a GAO official said. "In addition, we reported that careful monitoring and oversight is warranted to prevent potential fraud, waste, and abuse that can arise from these new waivers." 

The testimony also asserted that to ensure that all beneficiaries receive the best care possible, waivers for Medicaid and Medicare should account for equity.

"Continuing these flexibilities after the public health emergency declarations end could increase certain risks to the Medicare and Medicaid programs," a GAO official said. "Careful consideration of these benefits and risks will be key to determining the path forward, especially given that both programs are on GAO’s high-risk list."

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