The COVID-19 public health emergency has impacted every member of society, changing how we live our lives significantly. Older adults and those with certain health conditions have been especially impacted, as they are more susceptible to complications from COVID-19. One of the issues that these older and more infirm Americans have faced has been getting to a doctor’s office, hospital, or healthcare facility for diagnosis, care, and treatment—for coronavirus as well as chronic conditions.
Telehealth, sometimes called telemedicine, has proven to be a boon under these conditions. It allows individuals to connect with providers via a secure Internet connection—eliminating contact and preventing the spread of disease. In the age of COVID-19, telehealth has helped preserve the continuity of care, especially in urban areas where “stay at home orders” have been prevalent, and in remote and rural areas from which transportation options have been severely limited.
Despite the growing popularity of telehealth services, many Medicare beneficiaries who have accessed these services during the pandemic have been left wondering if they will be reimbursed for these visits.
The good news is that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently broadened their coverage of telehealth services for individuals on Medicare. For a limited period of time, patients with Medicare are able to access their providers for a wide range of conditions via telehealth services and receive reimbursement – a temporary policy change that reflects an effort by the CMS to ensure that all Americans have access to healthcare.
This new policy in effect during the COVID-19 public health emergency allows Medicare beneficiaries to receive coverage for preventive health screenings, evaluations, health management, and mental health screenings from participating providers using telehealth services. Almost any visit that would occur in person can now take place over a secure telehealth platform—as long as the provider uses an interactive audio video telecommunications system that permits real-time communication—and be eligible for reimbursement. Qualifying healthcare providers include physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurse midwives, certified nurse anesthetists, clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, registered dietitians, and nutrition professionals.
Telehealth services allow providers to safely evaluate patients experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or other contagious diseases without contact. Providers can take a full history, do a thorough evaluation, and determine if additional testing is needed—saving time and safeguarding both patient and provider from potential infection.