Feb 07 2019

Federal Officials Take Steps to Enhance Remote Care

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid services regulation supports potential path to telehealth expansion.

As telehealth takes off at organizations across the country, regulations are seeking to keep up. Remote care continues to make inroads as a priority for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, as the agency demonstrated last fall.

In November, CMS published a final rule for the 2019 Physician Fee Schedule that included a new code designated for virtual check-ins called “Brief Communication Technology-based Service.” The code is for real-time, audio-only telephone interactions, as well as synchronous, two-way audio interactions enhanced with video or other kinds of data transmission.

“From the ubiquity of synchronous, audio/video applications to the increased use of patient-facing health portals, a broader range of services can be furnished by healthcare professionals via communication technology as compared to 20 years ago,” CMS states in the rule.

Nathaniel M. Lacktman, a partner with law firm Foley & Lardner who focuses on healthcare, telemedicine and digital health, writes that the new code “represents a sizable change” in how providers can leverage technology to provide care.

“By reimbursing for virtual check-ins, the new code exemplifies CMS’ renewed vision and desire to bring the Medicare program into the future of clinically valid virtual care services,” he writes.

DOWNLOAD: Telehealth can improve care — here’s how.

Medicare Moves to Embrace Virtual Visits

But this isn't the only recent regulatory initiative set to expand remote care. In October, the agency unveiled a proposal that would help to expand the use of telehealth services through Medicare Advantage plans. The proposed rule aims to increase access to patient-centered care by allowing MA plans to offer telehealth benefits regardless of whether the policyholder lives in an urban or a rural area.

“It would also allow greater ability for Medicare Advantage enrollees to receive telehealth from places including their homes, rather than requiring them to go to a healthcare facility to receive telehealth services,” CMS states.

A report from Chilmark Research states that interest in telehealth continues to grow, pointing out that evidence shows it can support care outside of provider organizations.

“Stakeholders that fail to take note can expect to fall behind no matter their business model,” the authors note.

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