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Congress Extends Telehealth Flexibilities Under Medicare for at Least 5 Months Beyond End of COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

March 29, 2022

Author

Elizabeth (Izzy) Montgomery, MPA
Policy Analyst
501-526-2244
efmontgomery@achi.net

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Several Medicare rule changes that were aimed at expanding telehealth access during the COVID-19 public health emergency will continue for at least five months beyond the end of the emergency under key provisions Congress included in the recently enacted Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022. The public health emergency is currently set to expire April 22, barring extensions.

The $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill funds the federal government through the end of fiscal year 2022, which ends Sept. 30. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law March 15.

The omnibus bill includes provisions that will require Medicare to:

  • Continue to provide coverage for telehealth visits, including audio-only visits, for Medicare beneficiaries regardless of whether they reside in rural or urban areas.
  • Continue to reimburse telehealth services for an expanded list of Medicare providers, including occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech pathologists.
  • Continue to permit telehealth visits to be reimbursed whether they occur in Medicare beneficiaries’ homes or in medical facilities.
  • Continue to allow use of telehealth services to satisfy the face-to-face recertification requirement for hospice care.
  • Delay implementation of a requirement that a Medicare beneficiary who receives behavioral health services have an in-person visit within six months of a virtual visit.[1]

Throughout the public health emergency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has waived certain rules regarding telehealth to increase access and establish continuity of care for Medicare beneficiaries. Data from CMS show that telehealth utilization has been widely adopted among beneficiaries through the duration of the public health emergency. In an effort to examine whether such changes should be made permanent, the omnibus bill calls for the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee, or MedPAC, to study telehealth expansions made during the public health emergency and the extension of telehealth flexibilities through the omnibus bill. MedPAC will also be required to publicly post data on telemedicine use.

[1] The in-person visit requirement was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and had been scheduled to take effect at the end of the public health emergency. The 2022 omnibus bill postpones the in-person visit requirement until five months after the emergency ends.