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CONGRESS AND HHS ANNOUNCE SIGNIFICANT EXPANSIONS TO MEDICARE TELEHEALTH COVERAGE IN RESPONSE TO CORONAVIRUS
Congress recently passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, which the President signed into law. In an effort to encourage social distancing and increase access to care, the law significantly expands Medicare coverage for telehealth services. Specifically, Medicare will now cover nearly all telehealth services, regardless of the location of the patient or provider. The telecare provided does not need to be coronavirus-related, and nearly all types of services are covered, including preventive health services and mental health services. Additionally, providers may now use smartphones with audio and video capability to provide telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries. One limitation is that the provider must have treated the patient within the last three years, although HHS did issue guidance saying it will not implement any auditing of this requirement.
HHS sub-agencies are also working to remove barriers to telehealth. The Office of the Inspector General, for example, said that it will not bring enforcement actions in connection with waivers of cost-sharing for telehealth services. The Office of Civil Rights, which has oversight of HIPAA and privacy-related laws, likewise announced that it will not bring enforcement actions for HIPAA violations occurring in connection with telehealth services.