Providers pushing for more telehealth flexibility after CMS opens up virtual visits to Medicare Advantage plans

Providers will be able to offer more telemedicine services to seniors in private Medicare plans, thanks to changes announced Friday. But nursing home advocates are pushing for more, hoping the technology can help ease the industry’s ongoing staffing challenges.

Under the final rule starting in plan year 2020, nursing facility patients on Part C plans will be able to receive telehealth services from a physician or other advanced practitioner, if a Medicare Advantage plan decides to incorporate those services into its basic benefits. The National Association for the Support of Long Term Care applauded this policy change Monday, but was disappointed that the final rule did not expand the definition of telehealth provider to also include physical and occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists.

“This rule is a step in the right direction for ensuring patients in skilled nursing facilities have access to the broadest array of services that they need, delivered in ways that are effective, efficient and cost-effective,” Cynthia Morton, executive VP of NASL, told McKnight’s. “We are eager for Congress to do more to help patients by taking action to allow therapy providers to provide telehealth services as part of the additional telehealth benefits.”

She did note, however, that MA plans will also be able to incorporate nurse practitioner services, as well as registered dietitians, via telehealth.

“NASL believes that this is a positive move and good for nursing facility residents who are covered by a MA plan and are not in a rural area,” she added.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid officials said the changes, first proposed in October, are part of a larger push to modernize Medicare Advantage, an option that is becoming increasingly popular among seniors.

Meanwhile on the Congressional front, LeadingAge is recommending several changes to fee-for-service Medicare policy to further expand access to telehealth. Those suggestions come in response to a request for information from the Congressional Telehealth Caucus.

In an April 1 letter to the caucus, the advocacy group recommended including waiving certain statutory Medicare telehealth requirements, such as rural site restrictions, and allowing the patient’s home to be an eligible originating site for administering such offerings.