Telehealth has been around for decades and can be traced back to the late 1800s. But telehealth as we know it today is very different. Prior to COVID-19 telehealth was only covered in situations where patients had difficulty getting access to medical care due to geographical constraints. But in March 2020, insurance carriers started allowing telehealth for all patients to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. They also allowed telehealth services to be audio only, where in the past it would require both audio and video.
So the question is, how long are insurance carriers going to continue to allow telehealth with these relaxed rules? CMS is proposing that they be allowed until 12/21/2023. In that time they plan to conduct analyses for permanent expansion of telehealth services. Most expect that commercial insurances will follow CMS’s lead.
Currently telehealth services have only been approved through September 30, 2021 but President Biden plans on extending it until at least December 31, 2021. CMS plans on seeking additional requirements for extending telehealth permanently such as:
- Requiring in person behavioral health visits at least every 6 months
- Allowing audio only services to established patients with technological restraints
- Introducing a new modifier to identify audio only services
It doesn’t appear that COVID-19 will be completely gone any time soon, so it only makes sense to continue telehealth services. People who are high risk with underlying medical conditions can reduce the amount of exposure by receiving telehealth services for behavioral health services or follow up care. Also, patients who are experiencing some form of symptoms but still need to be seen, can be seen without exposing others. There are a lot of positive reasons to continue telehealth.
Only time will tell for sure, but for now it looks like telehealth, in some form or another, is here for the long haul. However, providers need to pay attention to changes to make sure their services are going to continue to be covered. One can’t assume that what is covered now, is what will be covered tomorrow. Make sure to stay up to date with the insurance carrier’s regulations.