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Telehealth has existed for quite a while, and as its use has expanded in recent years, some healthcare groups have even provided the services to their entire network of facilities. These networks often paid for telehealth access out of their own pockets, as accessibility and financial assistance for Medicare beneficiaries has previously been very limited, with coverage only available to facilities in designated rural areas and only for patients who had a previously-established relationship with their doctor. However, on March 6, the $8.3 billion dollar Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act was passed, which allowed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “to temporarily waive certain Medicare restrictions and requirements regarding telehealth services during the coronavirus public health emergency.”
Then, on March 13, President Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency. And thus, we received the 1135 waiver, which expanded telehealth services:
Under this new waiver, Medicare can pay for office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country and including in patient’s places of residence starting March 6, 2020. A range of providers, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, will be able to offer telehealth to their patients. Additionally, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) is providing flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.
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