Let’s Continue to Reap the Benefits of Telehealth After the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

by James Hughes, WFU JD Candidate ’22

Due to the infectious nature of COVID-19, our health care system has been forced to evolve in order to appropriately serve patients during this deadly pandemic. Before the public health emergency, roughly 13,000 Medicare beneficiaries received fee-for-service telehealth services per week, while almost 1.7 million Medicare beneficiaries utilized telehealth services in the last week of April, according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) data. Further, telehealth coverage should be a permanent fixture in our health care system, and the federal government should support telehealth coverage beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Before the public health emergency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) did not provide Medicare reimbursements for audio-visual telehealth visits unless the patient lived in a qualified rural area or was within the confines of certain medical facilities. Reimbursement has historically been the primary obstacle to telehealth services. The Telehealth Services During Certain Emergency Periods Act of 2020 allowed for HHS to modify or waive rules for telehealth under Medicare during the public health emergency, and recently, the American Medical Association asked President Trump, HHS, and Congress to extend some of the telehealth policies used during COVID-19 beyond this public health emergency.  

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