- The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission is taking a cautious approach to permanent telehealth policy, advising lawmakers to extend some emergency rules for telehealth access and coverage up to a few years after the coronavirus pandemic ends and to keep on studying how these tools and platforms affect healthcare delivery.
MedPAC’s report to Congress, released yesterday, will disappoint connected health advocates who had hoped the agency would set a clear path for long-term telehealth policy. But it also underscores the degree to which healthcare delivery has been changed by the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.
“In the report, we present a policy option for expanded coverage for Medicare telehealth policy after the PHE is over,” MedPAC says in a press release accompanying the report. “Under the policy option, policymakers should temporarily continue some of the telehealth expansions for a limited duration of time (e.g., one or two years after the PHE) to gather more evidence about the impact of telehealth on beneficiary access to care, quality of care, and program spending to inform any permanent changes.”
The agency recommends continuing Medicare coverage for telehealth services regardless of where the beneficiary is located, as well as covering audio-only services “if there is potential for clinical benefit” and some new services. It notes that coverage for audio-only services is new, so there’s very little evidence as to whether it reduces costs or improves quality or outcomes.
It also notes that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services had covered roughly 100 telehealth services prior to the pandemic, and has added more than 140 services in the past year. Nine of those new services have been made permanent through the Physician Fee Schedule, while about 60 will be covered through the end of the PHE.
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