Virtual care resources have proven to be invaluable assets for clinicians to safely manage COVID-19 patients and continue traditional care delivery remotely during the current public health crisis. In support of these efforts, regulatory agencies have temporarily waived some limitations and expanded reimbursable services related to telemedicine in accordance with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Designed to equip the US health system with maximum flexibility to respond to the pandemic, policy updates include:
- over 80 additional billable telehealth services for Medicare patients
- telehealth service payment parity
- extension of the use of telehealth services to new patients and provider types
Caregility created a guide that highlights new telehealth flexibilities during COVID-19 to help you understand these opportunities.
To reduce some of financial strain on US healthcare institutions, new funding opportunities for virtual care infrastructure have also emerged. The CARES Act provisioned $200 million for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a COVID-19 Telehealth Program to support healthcare providers in the fight against the ongoing pandemic.
The program seeks to extend “connected care services to patients at their homes or mobile locations” by extending funding to eligible healthcare providers for telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to enable the delivery of telehealth services. Funding can be used for treatment of coronavirus as well as other health conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. The FCC opened its COVID-19 Telehealth Program Application Portal on April 10th.
The COVID-19 Telehealth Program is limited tononprofit and public eligible healthcare providersthat fall within the following categories:
- post-secondary educational institutions offering healthcare instruction, teaching hospitals, and medical schools
- community health centers or health centers providing healthcare to migrants
- local health departments or agencies
- community mental health centers
- not-for-profit hospitals
- rural health clinics
- skilled nursing facilities
- consortia of healthcare providers consisting of one or more entities falling into the first seven categories
Both rural and non-rural health clinics are eligible to receive funding.
(Source: FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program FAQs)
Funding decisions will be made on a rolling basis and the FCC will continue to accept and review applications until the funding is exhausted or the current COVID-19 pandemic has ended.
To receive disbursements, eligible healthcare providers that are approved for funding will be required to submit an invoicing form and supporting documentation.Applicants who receive funding will be required to comply with program rules and requirements, including applicable reporting, and may be subject to compliance audits.
A link to the submission portal as well as additional details on the application requirements and process, awardees to date, and related news can be found here.
Although it is still unclear how long relaxed telehealth policies and expanded reimbursement coverage will be in place, what is clear is telehealth has secured its place as a permanent fixture in US healthcare delivery. As CMS Administrator Seema Verma recently put it, “The genie is out of the bottle on this one. I think it’s fair to say that the advent of telehealth has been just completely accelerated, that it’s taken this crisis to push us to a new frontier, but there’s absolutely no going back.”