Heeding Shaheen’s Bipartisan Call, Medicare to Cover Telephone-Based Telehealth Services in Same Way as Video Telehealth Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
**CMS Decision Comes in Response to Shaheen & Bipartisan Group of Senators’ Urging for Agency to Allow for Equal Medicare Reimbursement for Telephone-Based Health Services**
**Telephone-based Telehealth is Vital for New Hampshire’s Rural Communities That Don’t Have Reliable Broadband Services to Facilitate Video Telehealth**
(Manchester, NH) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) issued the following statement in response to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) decision to implement changes that will allow for broader use of telephone-based telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries. This decision came in response to Shaheen and a bipartisan group of Senators’ call for the agency to bring Medicare reimbursement for telephone-based health services in line with Medicare reimbursement for video telehealth. U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) also signed this letter.
Many Americans do not have access to reliable broadband, making it nearly impossible to use video-sharing to receive telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead they must turn to telephone-based telehealth services. However, health care professionals who provide these services are not receiving the same reimbursement for their telephone-based consultations as they would for visual consultations. These low reimbursement rates can be a barrier to broader access to telephone-based telehealth services.
“I’m glad the administration heeded our bipartisan call to make this commonsense fix. As we navigate this crisis, it’s necessary that we make changes along the way to ensure providers can continue to respond to the needs of patients in our communities. Bringing Medicare reimbursement for telephone-based consultations in line with Medicare payments for audio/visual forms of telehealth is an important change that will help increase the availability and affordability of medical services at this critical time,” said Shaheen. “Americans will continue to need medical attention throughout this crisis, whether it’s COVID-related or not, so we must have practices in place that facilitate these appointments and ensure no one is dissuaded by cost to seek care. I’ll keep working across the aisle to push the administration to make these necessary changes as we adapt to and push through this crisis.”
The changes spurred by the Senators’ bipartisan call and ultimately made by CMS do the following:
- Waive the video requirement for certain telephone evaluation and management services, and adding them to the list of Medicare telehealth services. As a result, Medicare beneficiaries will be able to use an audio-only telephone to get these services. This is in recognition of the fact that some Medicare beneficiaries lack access to interactive audio-video technology that is required for Medicare telehealth services, or choose not to use it, even if offered by their practitioner.
- CMS previously announced that Medicare would pay for certain services conducted by audio-only telephone between beneficiaries and their health care provider. Now, CMS is expanding that list to include many behavioral health and patient education services. CMS is also increasing payments for these telephone visits to match payments for similar office and outpatient visits. This would increase payments for these services from a range of about $14-$41 to about $46-$110. The payments are retroactive to March 1, 2020.
Senator Shaheen has worked to facilitate the use of telehealth for New Hampshire patients and health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 response legislation that Senator Shaheen voted for, and was ultimately signed into law earlier this year, waives restrictions on the use of telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries during this outbreak, a provision which Shaheen fought to include following her conversations with community health centers. Senators Shaheen and Hassan have urged the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to strengthen New Hampshire veterans’ access to telehealth as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread. Shaheen and Hassan have also sent multiple letters in support of increasing broadband access for low-income Granite Staters, and have urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand access to telehealth services in rural communities. In a letter sent to congressional leadership, Shaheen and Hassan called for increased investments in mental and behavioral health, including for substance use disorder, in future COVID-19 response legislation – which includes support for behavioral health providers to transition to telehealth services.