Telehealth reimbursement is being evaluated by CMS to render Medicare telehealth extensions permanent after the COVID-19 pandemic. CMS administrator Seema Verma recently suggested reforms initiated during the pandemic could become permanent, including payment for telehealth services provided to non-rural patients and the provision of telehealth treatment in patients’ homes.
To settle telehealth reimbursement rates, CMS would need to assess the costs for telehealth vs. in-person services. Medicare payment rates for in-person treatment take supply costs such as hospital gowns, washing, disinfectants, and other service costs into account. Telehealth services do not require these supplies. The costs associated with generating new systems and workflows to enable telehealth visits also need to be considered. For CMS to properly reimburse providers for permanent Medicare telehealth extensions, all such expenses will need to be reviewed.
Short-term payment changes allowed practices to implement telehealth services rapidly. Telehealth has proved essential to COVID-19 approaches for the response. Providers have been able to continue treating patients via telehealth, preventing unnecessary staff or employee exposure to the extremely infectious virus.
Virtual treatment has also proved invaluable in ensuring the health of patients and staff within the hospital setting. Hospitals have been able to reduce interaction with infected patients by using smartphones, laptops, and other mobile devices, while still placing caregivers and family near the patient.
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