Physicians might make fewer follow-up calls if they lose audio-only reimbursement

Eliminating or reducing reimbursement for physicians' five- to 10-minute calls with patients could mean Americans receiving fewer check-ins from their providers, Kaiser Health News reported Dec. 8.

The medical community is entrenched in a debate over whether insurers should pay for audio-only visits and whether they should be reimbursed at the same rate as in-person visits, according to the report. Currently, physicians use a four-digit "virtual check-in" billing code created during the pandemic for short calls. 

Most audio-only payments are set to expire when the public health emergency ends, but Congress or CMS could change policies amid ongoing lobbying efforts.

Physician groups told Kaiser Health News that decreasing or doing away with audio-only payments could lead to providers significantly reducing telehealth services. On the other hand, employers who pay for health coverage are worried reimbursing audio-only visits at the same rate as in-person visits — a measure established during the pandemic — could lead to overbilling.

"Whether we see patients in house, by video or by phone, we need the same coding" because a similar amount of labor is performed, Ada Stewart, MD, board chair for the American Academy of Family Physicians, told Kaiser Health News.


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