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On October 14, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it has expanded its list of telehealth services approved for Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE).  The eleven telehealth services CMS just added are for cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation.  CMS approved them using an expedited process it unveiled in a May Interim Final Rule.  These eleven new services, along with many others designated as temporary, will remain in effect for the duration of the PHE.

CMS simultaneously announced preliminary data showing an explosive 2600% growth in the use of telehealth by Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries between March and June 2020, as compared to that time last year.  “To further drive telehealth” among Medicaid populations, CMS said it has released a new supplement to its toolkit to guide states in expanding the use of telehealth.

CMS said it took these actions in response to President Trump’s August 3, 2020 Executive Order directing the agency, among other things, to review the “additional telehealth services offered to Medicare beneficiaries” and to “propose a regulation to extend these measures, as appropriate beyond the duration of the PHE ….”

CMS’s announcement is more good news for Medicare and Medicaid providers and beneficiaries alike regarding the agency’s commitment to the robust use of telehealth.  But Congress holds the key to allowing the telehealth expansion to continue beyond the PHE—it must lift statutory restrictions that ordinarily allow telehealth only in rural areas and not in a patient’s home.  With bipartisan support for telehealth expansion, lawmakers may increase their focus on the issue in 2021 when the new Congress convenes and the PHE hopefully is coming to an end.

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