CMS Expands Telehealth for Hospice, Other Providers During COVID-19 Outbreak

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is expanding the use of telehealth to help patients, families and clinicians practice social distancing during the ongoing pandemic. To date, CMS has not confirmed whether hospice physicians will be able to conduct certifications or recertifications using telehealth rather than the currently required face-to-face encounter.

CMS will allow health care providers to bill for these services, but noted that the new flexibilities are a temporary measure during the federally declared COVID-19 emergency. Providers can begin billing for these services immediately, going back to March 6. Telehealth services are paid under the Physician Fee Schedule at the same amount as in-person services.

Until now, Medicare reimbursement for telehealth was limited to routine visits in particular circumstances, such as for rural patients in remote areas or for brief “virtual check-ins.”

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“These changes allow seniors to communicate with their doctors without having to travel to a health care facility so that they can limit risk of exposure and spread of this virus,” said Administrator Seema Verma. “Clinicians on the frontlines will now have greater flexibility to safely treat our beneficiaries.”

The new flexibilities from CMS allow hospices and other health care providers to expand their telehealth activities. Following this CMS announcement, providers can conduct “office visits,” mental health counseling and preventive health screenings, regardless of the patient’s diagnosis.

CMS has been silent thus far on a key question facing many hospices, that pertaining to using telehealth to conduct certifications and recertifications, but hospices and their patients will likely benefit from the ability to provide more services online.

Expanded telehealth opportunities has been high on the hospice community’s wish list as the COVID-19 crisis took shape.

“A waiver would provide a lot of flexibilities related to the conditions participation. One specific flexibility that arguably CMS could allow for, or certainly legislation could allow for, is telehealth flexibility,” NHPCO President and CEO Edo Banach told Hospice News. “You can imagine if there’s someone in a nursing facility or even at home who is in need of services, but sending someone there may be contraindicated, that the use of telehealth would be an effective, efficient, and if it can be billed that would be a real help.”

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