Some very good news for the telehealth community can be found amidst the more than 1,400 pages of the proposed Medicare Physician Fee Schedule for 2019 ("Proposed Rule") issued by CMS yesterday. Finally, CMS acknowledges just how far behind Medicare has lagged in recognizing and paying for physician services furnished via communications technology.
The longstanding barriers to Medicare payment for telehealth visits based on the location of the patient and the technology utilized could soon give way to payment for brief check-in services using technology that will evaluate whether or not an office visit or other service is warranted. CMS proposes to establish a new code to pay providers for a virtual check in. For many telehealth providers, the payment proposal will not go far enough since the new code can only be used for established patients. CMS notes that the telehealth practitioner should have some basic knowledge of the patients' medical condition and needs that can only be gained by having an existing relationship with the patient.
Store and Forward
In other good news, the Proposed Rule creates a specific payment code for the remote professional evaluation of patient-transmitted information conducted via pre-recorded "store and forward" video or image technology. CMS recognizes that the progression of technology and its impact on the practice of medicine in recent years will result in increased access to services for Medicare beneficiaries. CMS is seeking comment as to whether these type of telehealth services could be deployed for new patients as well as existing patients.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018
The Proposed Rule also implements important expansions of telehealth services included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 ("BBA of 2018") passed last winter. The BBA of 2018 made way for end-stage renal disease patients to receive certain clinical assessments via telehealth beginning in January 2019. Under the Proposed Rule, CMS proposes to amend its regulations to add in the home of the patient as the "originating site." Under existing Medicare rules, the patient's home is not an appropriate "originating site" for a telehealth visit.
Comments on the Proposed Rule are due by September 10, 2018. Check back with us for updates on these important telehealth developments.
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