The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump, provides a number of important expansions of telehealth coverage during the public health emergency affecting those in rural areas and home health care patients and establishes significant funding for enhancement of telehealth services by updating and upgrading technology and infrastructure. Although Medicare coverage changes are currently intended to remain in effect, only during the public health emergency, increased reliance on telehealth is likely to result in longer-lasting changes.
- Provider Flexibility. Telehealth visits will be covered by Medicare regardless of whether a provider has treated a beneficiary within the prior three years, allowing access to a broader range of providers.
- Rural Locations. Federally qualified health centers or rural health clinics will temporarily serve as appropriate “distant sites” for providing telehealth services to beneficiaries, allowing individuals to receive care at home.
- Home Health Care. Medicare will reimburse for telehealth visits between a physician and a home dialysis patient, and concerning hospice care recertification, temporarily eliminating certain requirements for a face to face visit. Also, guidance will be forthcoming on the encouraged use of remote patient monitoring and other telehealth services in connection with home health care.
- HDHP Plans. A new safe harbor allows high deductible health plans with a health savings account to cover telehealth services without cost sharing before meeting a deductible.
- Funding for Access and Infrastructure. Significant funds are earmarked to prevent, prepare and respond to COVID-19 by upgrading access and expanding the telehealth infrastructure overall and for rural health services and the Indian Health Services in particular. These improvements will carry over after the current public health emergency and are likely to increase reliance on this method of delivering healthcare.