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The reality of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which has caused social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and self-imposed quarantines after potential interaction with a sick individual, has necessitated widespread use of telemedicine in the United States to extents never seen before. Now that these capabilities have been used, they should not be rolled back, according to the American Medical Group Association (AMGA).

In March, shortly after President Donald Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency, CMS revealed it would temporarily relax and expand its telehealth rules. Under the change, providers could use methods like FaceTime and Skype, and Medicare would pay for telehealth visits at the same rate as regular, in-person visits.

Data on privately insured individuals showed a substantial increase in telehealth use in March 2020, when the pandemic was escalating in the United States. FAIR Health found that from March 2019 to March 2020, telehealth claim lines increased 4347% from 0.17% of medical claims to 7.52%. In comparison, the growth from February 2019 to February 2020, before the pandemic was declared a national emergency and states began instituting stay-at-home orders, was just 121%.

Now, AMGA is asking CMS to permanently extend the telehealth flexibilities it instituted as a result of COVID-19.

“Patients quickly adapted to receiving care in the comfort and safety of their own homes,” AMGA President and CEO Jerry Penso, MD, MBA, said in a statement. “It would be disruptive and counterproductive to attempt to impose obsolete restrictions on telehealth after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma, AMGA made recommendations around telehealth and audio-only calls. The organization recommended that CMS continued to allow the use of smartphones for telehealth visits even after the pandemic and the addition of about 80 codes to the Medicare telehealth list. In addition, AMGA recommends CMS allow audio-only calls in order to collect diagnosis information for risk adjustment and care coordination purposes and supports establishing separate payments for audio-only evaluation and management service, as well as payment parity.

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