Executive Order Seeks Permanent Telehealth Expansion

On Monday, August 3, 2020, President Trump signed an Executive Order that is intended to permanently expand the access to and availability of telehealth services. The executive order requires that within 60 days, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) must review temporary, public health emergency related telehealth measures and propose regulations to extend and expand these measures beyond the pandemic. Specifically, HHS’ review and proposed regulations must address (i) the additional telehealth services offered to Medicare beneficiaries during the public health emergency and (ii) the services, reporting, staffing and supervision flexibilities offered to Medicare providers in rural areas.

An internal analysis conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) found a jump in weekly telehealth visits for Medicare beneficiaries from approximately 14,000 pre-pandemic to almost 1.7 million in the last week of April. Furthermore, an HHS report revealed that 43.5% of Medicare fee-for-service primary care visits were conducted via telehealth in the month of April, which was a trend that continued even after in-person primary care resumed. Citing to the increase in telehealth visits and the significant benefits telehealth can provide to rural health care providers, the Executive Order provides that telehealth services are “likely to be a more permanent feature of the healthcare delivery system.”

In addition to the HHS proposal of regulations to expand telehealth, the Executive Order also requires (i) launching a new payment model that encourages a transition to value based care and ensures rural healthcare providers have predictable payments and flexibility from existing Medicare rules; (ii) the implementation of a strategy to improve physical and communications healthcare infrastructure available to rural Americans; and (iii) policy initiatives to increase rural access to healthcare by eliminating regulatory burdens that limit available providers.

This Executive Order comes on the heels of a bill introduced recently in the House of Representatives titled “Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act of 2020.” This bill is intended to make permanent certain waivers that are also considered in the Executive Order. The combined actions of the Legislative and Executive branches of the Federal government is a harbinger of the broader acceptance of virtual healthcare post-COVID-19. The expansion of telehealth reimbursement combined with the increased adoption by providers and patients affords many stakeholders in the healthcare system with significant opportunities.

How Frier Levitt Can Help

Frier Levitt will continue to monitor any new proposed legislation and regulations related to telehealth. For assistance developing a compliant telehealth business model or introducing telehealth into your existing practice, contact Frier Levitt.

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