WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Tuesday announced an unprecedented expansion of telehealth services for seniors, an effort to prevent healthy and sick Americans alike from visiting doctor’s offices in person and risk spreading or catching the novel coronavirus.

“Medicare patients can now visit any doctor by phone or videoconference at no additional cost, including with commonly used services like FaceTime and Skype,” Trump said during a White House press briefing. “A historic breakthrough — this has not been done before.”

Medicare, the federal health insurer that provides care to individuals 65 or older and others with disabilities or long-term care needs, covers roughly 62 million Americans. The coronavirus and Covid-19, the respiratory disease it causes, often results in particularly severe symptoms for seniors and those with preexisting health conditions like heart or lung disease.

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The action, officials said, eliminates the needs for seniors who require checkups or doctor visits unrelated to potential coronavirus infections to travel to in-person clinics and expose themselves to potential infection. Telehealth benefits had previously been restricted to seniors living in rural areas who had already sought care through a particular provider.

“Medicare beneficiaries across the nation, no matter where they live, will now be able to receive a wide range of services via telehealth without ever having to leave home,” said Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “And these services can also be provided in a variety of settings, including nursing homes, hospital outpatient departments, and more.”

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CMS, Verma said, would exercise “enforcement discretion when it comes to collecting copays, so that costs won’t be a barrier.”

Trump urged seniors to use telehealth as much as possible in an effort to slow the virus’ spread and to maintain hospital capacity — presumably by shifting in-person visits to doctor’s offices and hospitals increasingly inundated by coronavirus cases to remote visits conducted by phone or various video chat platforms.

The administration’s action effectively waives many existing restrictions on telehealth. Verma and Trump also stressed that the federal government would stop enforcing numerous elements of HIPAA, the health privacy law that, until now, heavily regulated providers seeking to deliver care remotely. In a statement, health secretary Alex Azar said providers could offer telehealth benefits to seniors “at a lower cost than traditional services.”

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The move comes after Trump signed a new law authorizing over $8 billion in new spending to combat the pandemic, including $500 million dedicated to helping clinicians expand telehealth services.

“In addition, states have the authority to cover telehealth services for their medical patients, Trump said. “And by doing this, the patient is not seeing the doctor per se, but they’re seeing the doctor, so there’s no getting close.”

  • are they lifting the restriction of billing 99307-99310 more then once every thirty days for Telehealth patients? I cannot find that information anywhere.
    thanks!

  • My sister has diabetes, quad bypass and c.o.p.d. and with all going on she is still expected to go to a doctors visit EVERY month for her pain meds and to top it off her Dr’s office is in the hospital annex where all of the coronavirus is at!!
    if you are going to use the telephone for dr’s visits let’s make it for all!! It’s not like the pharmarcy would be filling any scripts earlier than date intended!

  • The only information I can find, says that telemedicine can be provided over the telephone, but only if the telephone has audio AND video capabilities.
    So…is medicare going to deny coverage and care to people if they do not have video capabilities on their phone?!
    A plain telephone should be good enough during this emergency.
    Thank you for your help!

    • Video serves zero purpose in my endocrine practice taking care of some of the highest risk patients. The Texas governor put out a declaration waiving this requirement which allowed instant implementation over the phone for us. My kids can’t get grandma to reliably Skype, hangouts, duo, or FaceTime, after 10 years – No way I would expect my population to be able to reliably video chat…and again it would contribute zero clinically. The video requirement should be permanently removed.

  • While it is good that the Trump administration has lifted restrictions on telemedicine for seniors, it should take the next step and lift all state and federal restrictions for telemedicine for all. With telemedicine, it will be easier for everyone who is trying to avoid contact as well as all the overworked health care professionals who are becoming sick. There are many persons who have health challenges (e.g., with cancer, lung disease) who are not yet 65 who should avoid unnecessary exposure to other sick people. Plus it can be cheaper to deliver care, a necessity at this point when medical bills are high.

  • Informed, consenting adults should be free to do things like this but it’s irrelevant because most elderly people will be dead one way or the other before they manage to figure out how to teleconference on their own.

  • I agree with you. However, the policy-makers get sidetracked by unfounded concerns about drug diversions or misuse. For example, that you receive a 90-day supply and decide to sell 60-days of it. Or, you take all 90 days worth at once to commit suicide.

    They fail to recognize that if you were intent on selling pills or committing suicide that way, you could just skip doses (or split pills) frequently enough ….

  • In this hyper-contagious time, tele-health is an excellent Dr consulting tool, limiting in-person contact, for as much as possible. It should be such that it also supports (longer term) scripts for patients whose controlled-medicine needs have already been established. If the health privacy laws are adapted for tele-health, so also should the burden of getting meds be reduced.

  • Will this allow physicians to see patients in other states without restriction? Ex: we have a group in nevada can we do telehealth for california residents?

  • Must I travel every month, out of town to the only pharmacy that stocks my controlled medication? Can I receive a 3 month supply of All my Meds, stopping the need for frequent monthly trips into the pharmacy that doesn’t offer delivery? As it is I have to rent a car to go out of town, and walk to pharmacy to pick rest. I am 67 years young but it’s getting warmer here in So Florida to walk a mile each way.

    • I don’t know about in Florida, but many Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (PDPs) allow you to fill your prescriptions through their affiliated mail-order pharmacy, where your prescriptions will be mailed to you. They are filled with 90-day supplies, so you may save some money, too. I don’t know if they will allow mail order for controlled substances, however, nor a 90-day supply. Call your Medicare PDP to find out.

  • Does this include treatments related to what the stress of this virus is doing to the people in our county. For instance, behavioral health services. Many people are have anxiety and panic over this pandemic. Many would benefit from tele-medicine therapy visits.

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