States Start to Make Temporary COVID-19 Telehealth Changes Permanent

States introduced interim emergency waivers to their telehealth rules after the HHS’ Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) decided to broaden access to telehealth services and maximize coverage in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare organizations and patients have received the modifications to telehealth policies, which enhanced telehealth services access to manage the spread of the SARS-CoV-2. There were growing demands for making the changes permanent, and a number of states like Colorado, Idaho, and Massachusetts have taken steps to make sure the changes continue on after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

On March 16, 2020, the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine (BORIM) authorized a new policy that says a similar standard of care is applicable to in-person and telehealth sessions and a face-to-face experience is not a pre-requisite for a telehealth session. The policy was launched on a short-term basis in line with COVID-19 response, but on June 26, 2020, the new policy is permanent as per BORIM. This is the initial telehealth-specific policy that BORIM adopted. Of the states that first acted on making the COVID-19 telehealth policies permanent, Massachusetts is one.

At the Federal level, there were growing calls to make the telehealth services access permanent and to continue reimbursement parity for in-person and virtual visits even after the COVID-19 national public health emergency is over.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma has shown support for extending telehealth access. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) recently held a meeting and discussed the 30+ temporary adjustments to Federal telehealth policies. The Senate Committee then urged Congress to make permanent a number of of the changes. There is a frequently held perspective that telehealth can boost patient outcomes, help providers provide a more effective patient experience, and that telehealth can help lessen the cost of healthcare provision.

Two Federal policy modifications that have drawn significant support are the relaxing of the Medicare originating site prerequisite to permit doctors to give telehealth services to all patients, regardless of where they are located, and increasing the number of telehealth services allowed under Medicare.

These and a few other policy modifications have gotten support at the state level. A number of other states have at this point taken steps to better telehealth access. This week, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill that forbids the requirement by health insurance firms that a patient needs to have a pre-established relationship with a virtual care provider. The law, which applies to Medicaid and state-controlled health plans, likewise prohibits insurance companies from imposing more location, certification, or licensure prerequisites on providers before issuing telehealth reimbursement and the limitations on the technology that may be used to offer telehealth services were likewise removed. Audio or video interaction solutions just must be compliant with the HIPAA Security Rule.

Idaho Governor Brad Little has likewise taken steps to make the COVID-19 modifications to telehealth regulations permanent, such as the state’s interim telehealth rule waivers that raised the medications that may be prescribed in telehealth consultations, the extending of the technology that may be utilized for rendering telehealth services, and the switch that allows out-of-state physicians to provide virtual patient treatments.

All states extended access to telehealth services for Medicaid beneficiaries after the CMS announcement about the extension of access to telehealth and greater coverage. A lot more states are currently anticipated to make the emergency changes permanent. Nevertheless, health insurance companies should also make changes and validate that they will continue to repay physicians for virtual sessions at the same price as in-person visits, or else it is most likely that telehealth services will be dropped and have in-person visits only.