As the PHE ends, it’s essential to know what is changing so you can prepare. In part 2 of our blog series, Mend reviews the temporary Medicare changes for telehealth lasting until the end of 2024.
As we head closer to the public health emergency (PHE) end date of May 11, 2023, providers must prepare for changes. Part one of our blog series covers the Medicare changes relating to telehealth that will remain a permanent policy. Now we’ll dive into the temporary medicare changes for telehealth that will remain through December 31, 2024.
One of the changes Medicare made during the PHE relates to distant site providers. More specifically, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Clinics (RHCs). Medicare allowed these sites to serve as distant site providers for non-behavioral/mental telehealth services.
This change meant that patients could receive care from providers in different areas. As a result, patients who live in rural or underserved areas were able to gain increased access to care. FQHCs and RHCs can bill for telehealth services. These sites will receive reimbursement at the same rate as in-person visits until the end of 2024.
After December 31, 2024, these sites can no longer offer virtual visits relating to non-behavioral/mental health care. In 2025, these sites can serve as distant providers only for behavioral and mental health visits.
Medicare expanded the types of healthcare providers who can offer telehealth services during the PHE. In addition to doctors, this list includes physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists.
Each of these disciplines can deliver virtual care, charge for services, and receive reimbursement from Medicare. Patients who require these services can receive care remotely, reducing the need for in-person visits as the PHE ends.
This change, however, is only temporary. It will end on December 31, 2024, unless the policy becomes permanent in the meantime.
Another major temporary change to Medicare’s telehealth policy is that patients can receive non-behavioral/mental telehealth services in their homes.
Previously, patients had to go to an approved originating site to receive virtual care. This may have been a doctor’s office or hospital. This change allows patients to receive care in the comfort and safety of their own homes.
Until December 31, 2024, patients can continue to see providers for non-behavioral/mental telehealth services with no geographic restrictions. Unless policy changes before the end of this time period, Medicare will cease to cover telehealth from certain locations.
Patients who require behavioral/mental health services would typically need an in-person visit with their provider to receive virtual care. This in-person visit needed to be within six months of the initial telehealth service.
Medicare temporarily eliminated the requirement for an in-person visit within six months of the initial telehealth service. After December 2024, this process changes again.
New patients will once again need an initial in-person visit after six months when the temporary measure ends. The patient will need an in-person visit annually thereafter.
The easiest way to manage this policy is hybrid care, which combines the best of telehealth and in-person visits. Team members can rely on technology for secure video visits as well as automatic appointment reminders and billing for both visits. Providers can manage this through a sophisticated telehealth platform that integrates with EMR and billing software.
One of the challenges of telehealth services is that not all patients have the technology needed for virtual visits.
To address this issue, Medicare has made it possible for providers to deliver care using audio-only platforms. This applies only to certain non-behavioral/mental telehealth services. This means that patients who do not have access to video conferencing technology can still receive care remotely.
Through December 31, 2024, providers can continue delivering non-behavioral/mental telehealth services using audio-only communication platforms.
Since the PHE, there has been growing recognition of the benefits of virtual care. More changes to telehealth policy may come in 2023 and 2024. Given the anticipated progress in the telehealth sector in the near future, providers need to closely monitor changes. This will enable them to invest in emerging technologies and adapt to the digital health landscape.
Stay ahead of changes with a sophisticated telehealth platform like Mend that supports HIPAA-compliant hybrid care. Whether delivering virtual or in-person care, Mend creates a seamless solution to improve both the patient and provider experience. Schedule a demo today with one of our experts to learn more.
Mend is providing this series for informational purposes only. This is not legal advice. Always consult your legal counsel. Stay up-to-date with the latest policy changes via the Center for Connected Telehealth Policy and CMS websites.
The current Medicare policy allows telehealth services from any location through 2024. It also expands the list of healthcare providers. It allows FQHCs and RHCs to receive reimbursements for telehealth services. The requirement for mental health providers to see patients in person before virtual care is on pause through 2024. Medicare will continue to cover audio-only services when appropriate.
During the PHE period, healthcare providers could use telehealth in good faith, even if their platforms or software did not comply with HIPAA. This is no longer an exception when the PHE ends in May 2023. Healthcare organizations must use HIPAA-compliant telemedicine software.
Not every pandemic-era policy will continue after 2023. However, these extensions through 2024 provide greater certainty for healthcare providers with respect to Medicare telehealth reimbursement. Permanent expansions of Medicare coverage of telehealth services are still under consideration by Congress.