Over the course of 2020, primary care practices will be expected to lose an estimated $67,774 in gross revenue per full-time physician.
COVID-19 cancellations have financially devastated primary care practices, but their losses could be doubled without sustained telemedicine reimbursement, according to a new study.
Over the course of 2020, primary care practices will be expected to lose an estimated $67,774 in gross revenue per full-time physician because of COVID-19 cancelations between February and May.
The study, published online ahead of print in Health Affairs, estimates that amount could reach $15.1 billion at the national level. Plus, those losses could more than double if COVID-19 telemedicine payment policies aren't sustained, the authors say.
"As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the economy, it is important to. . .consider potential mitigation strategies that will maintain and even strengthen the primary care system during the ensuing years," the authors wrote.
Although some primary care practices could use virtual care to mitigate revenue loss, there's a lot of uncertainty around reimbursement regulation and policies.
In fact, other data out this week from Harvard University and health technology company Phreesia shows that telemedicine usage in primary care practices is already declining since reaching a high in mid-April.
Despite those declines and a slow return to in-person visits, there are promising signs that telemedicine reimbursement changes might be here to stay. Among them:
- Idaho recently moved to permanently loosen telehealth rules
- Last month, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee said it would permanently cover virtual visits with in-network providers effective immediately.
- Earlier this month, two U.S. representatives introduced a bill that would make Medicare reimbursement permanent for certain telehealth services.
- CMS Administrator Seema Verma has said she "can't imagine going back" to a world without expanded telehealth access.
- A newly formed Taskforce on Telehealth Policy will hold its first meeting June 29. It's a joint initiative from the National Committee for Quality Assurance, the Alliance for Connected Care, and the American Telemedicine Association.
Without such changes, though, the damage to the primary care system could worsen.
"A well-functioning primary care system is needed to serve as the 'first contact' entry point to the health care system…absent such a system, patients will be forced to rely even more on emergency rooms or directly with specialists, both potentially resulting in excess costs," the Health Affairs authors said.
Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.