Trump expands telehealth coverage for Medicare beneficiaries amid coronavirus outbreak

The Trump administration on March 17 announced the expansion of Medicare telehealth coverage, which will allow beneficiaries to participate in virtual visits with their physicians amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seven things to know:

1. Through Medicare, CMS will temporarily pay clinicians to provide telehealth services for beneficiaries across the U.S. starting March 6.

"These changes allow seniors to communicate with their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility so that they can limit risk of exposure and spread of this virus," CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a March 17 news release. "Clinicians on the frontlines will now have greater flexibility to safely treat our beneficiaries."

2. Various healthcare providers, including physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners and psychologists will now be able to offer telehealth services to beneficiaries.

3. Medicare beneficiaries can now receive a range of services through telehealth, including common office visits, mental health counseling and preventive health screenings.

4. By expanding telehealth benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, the Trump administration aims to alleviate pressure on healthcare facilities such as emergency departments that deal with urgent cases.

5. Clinicians can now bill for dates of service starting March 6. Telehealth services are paid under the Physician Fee Schedule at the same amount as in-person services.

6. Last week, President Trump issued an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act and the National Emergencies Act. CMS' Medicare telehealth benefits expansion is in accordance with the declaration as well as the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act.

7. The American Medical Association commended CMS for the policy change, which supports "social distancing measures that slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, while providing safe screening and treatment to patients through remote care," said AMA President Patrice Harris, MD, according to a March 17 statement

"The use of telemedicine and remote care services are critical to the management of the COVID-19, while also ensuring uninterrupted care for 100 million Americans with chronic conditions," Dr. Harris' statement reads. "The AMA encourages any private payers that are not already covering telehealth services to remove those limitations now. The AMA stands ready to help physicians expand their use of telemedicine and continues to invest in resources that provide physicians with a proven path for integrating telemedicine and digital health technologies into patient care."

Editor's note: This article was updated on March 17 at 3:30 p.m. to include a statement from the American Medical Association. 

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