Medicare telehealth visits increased 63-fold during pandemic, study finds 

With relaxed regulations during the pandemic, Medicare telehealth visits increased 63-fold in 2020, from 840,000 in 2019 to 52.7 million, according to a Dec. 3 HHS report. 

For its report, HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation analyzed Medicare fee-for-service data in 2019 and 2020 to get a better understanding of how telehealth use has expanded during COVID-19. 

At the start of the pandemic, CMS used emergency waivers and regulations to expand telehealth services during the public health emergency; these expansions included waiving statutory limits such as geographic licensing restrictions and reimbursing for new services delivered via telehealth. HHS' Office for Civil Rights also relaxed HIPAA enforcements for video conferencing, which let providers and patients use platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime for telehealth visits. 

In November, CMS said it will pay for mental health telehealth visits conducted by rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers outside of the COVID-19 public health emergency. The agency also extended the list of telehealth services temporarily covered by Medicare during the PHE through Dec. 31, 2023. 

Here are six insights from HHS' Medicare telehealth use report: 

1. Most Medicare beneficiaries (92 percent) received telehealth visits from their homes. 

2. Behavioral healthcare saw the biggest increase in telehealth; telehealth comprised one-third of total visits to behavioral health specialists in 2020. 

3. Before the pandemic, telehealth made up less than 1 percent of visits across all specialties. This largely increased in 2020, with telehealth making up 8 percent of primary care visits and 3 percent of specialty care visits. 

4. Black and rural beneficiaries had lower use of telehealth compared to white and urban beneficiaries, respectively. 

5. States with the highest use of telehealth in 2020 included Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode-Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut. 

6. States with the lowest use of telehealth in 2020 included Tennessee, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota and Wyoming. 

Click here to view the full report. 

 

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