Coronavirus legislation allows expanded use of telehealth

UPDATE: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) exercised its authority under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplementation Appropriations Act by waiving Medicare telehealth originating site and telephone restrictions so that Medicare will pay for telehealth services furnished to patients in any setting (including their homes) and will allow use of a telephone with real-time audio and video capabilities (e.g., a smartphone) for telehealth services. These changes apply to telehealth services furnished during the coronavirus emergency and extend back to the March 6, 2020 date of the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplementation Appropriations Act. CMS announced that it will not be enforcing a provision in the act that required a pre-existing relationship in order to take advantage of the expanded coverage.


The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplementation Appropriations Act, signed into law on March 6, 2020, includes the Telehealth Services During Certain Emergency Periods Act of 2020, which gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services authority to expand the use of telehealth within outbreak areas during the current (or a renewal) coronavirus emergency period. 

These provisions allow the secretary to waive or modify Medicare telehealth restrictions on patient originating site and on telephone use if the telehealth services are furnished by a physician or nonphysician practitioner (NPP) who previously (within 3 years) furnished Medicare items or services, or who is part of a practice whose physicians or NPPs had such a treatment relationship.  

“To protect public health, the bill will allow Medicare providers to extend telemedicine services to seniors regardless of where they live,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

In order to qualify for a waiver, the telephone must have audio and video capabilities for two-way, real-time interactive communication – so, a smartphone could be used for telehealth.

The scope and specific terms of these telehealth waivers await implementation by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

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