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Telemedicine Gets Boost from Budget Deal; Stakeholders Applaud its Passage

By Jack O'Brien  
   February 09, 2018

Medicare Advantage plans, ACOs, and physicians offering telehealth services stand to benefit from provisions set forth in the omnibus package. 

In addition to providing several funding measures to federal healthcare programs, the bipartisan budget deal signed into law Friday by President Donald Trump also approved new regulations that could expand telehealth.

The two-year budget agreement widens telehealth options for Medicare Advantage plans and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), and it authorizes payments to physicians who furnish telehealth services starting in 2021.

"This legislation represents the first time physician payment has been enabled for the broad Medicare population and, we believe, marks the beginning of a shift in policy supportive of telehealth as a means to improve access and lower cost,” said Joseph M. DeVivo, CEO of InTouch Health, in a statement.

Currently, telehealth services are offered as separate items to patients visiting physicians who use the technology for treatment options. Under the new law, telehealth services covered by Medicare Advantage plans will change from being considered “additional telehealth benefits,” and instead be classified as benefits provided to patients at in-person visits.

This would bring the service in line with the original Medicare fee-for-service methodology.

Related: The Adolescence of Telehealth

The change to in-person telehealth benefits, which remains the patient’s choice of whether to accept, will take effect in 2020. According to the bill text, specifications for requirements on coordination of in-person telehealth benefits, physician qualification and training remains the duty of Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

Additionally, the legislation clarifies the geographic definition for ACOs, including the home setting as a location for telehealth services to take place. Previously, ACOs had faced geographic limitations to the coverage of certain services provided, including telehealth.

Jack O'Brien is an associate editor at HealthLeaders. 


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