COVID-19 and Telehealth Expansion
March 25, 2020 · Jazmyne Carter
With COVID-19 keeping everyone in doors, how can one reach their doctor about health-related services and concerns?
It’s the best way to get long-distance patient and clinician contact, care, advice, reminders and more.
Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced major steps to expand Americans’ access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Centers for Medicare & and Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded Medicare coverage for telehealth visits and encouraged states to use Medicaid telehealth options to combat COVID.
- HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will waive potential HIPAA penalties for good faith use of telehealth during the emergency.
- HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) provided flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive beneficiary cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar released the following statement:
“Thanks to the Public Health Emergency I declared in January, more older Americans will be able to access healthcare they need from their home, without worrying about putting themselves or others at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Providers will be allowed to use everyday technologies to talk to telehealth patients, more telehealth services will be covered for millions more Medicare beneficiaries, and providers will be allowed to offer these telehealth benefits to Medicare beneficiaries at a lower cost than traditional services. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump has been knocking out every bureaucratic obstacle possible that stands in the way of a rapid and effective response. We are grateful to the hard work of those across HHS who put together these actions, and we’re grateful to American healthcare providers for working to take advantage of these options and continue their heroic work serving patients during the pandemic.”
NCQA and Telehealth
Telehealth is simply the right thing to do. It’s especially important for supporting social distancing to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
The benefits of telehealth are evident to NCQA.
Telehealth allows access to appointments and care outside regular business hours. Patients can access portals for appointments, prescription refills, referrals and test results. And most importantly high risk patients won’t comprise their health by coming into the office.
NCQA allows for the use of telehealth, in place of in-person visits, in many of our measures. In the past few years, we updated our HEDIS measures to include specific telehealth modalities that were supported by research evidence in addition to in-person care. Decisions about which measures allow for the use of telehealth are based on evidence and the consensus of our Telehealth Expert Panel members.
More than 90% of measures included in HEDIS 2020 (excluding CAHPS and descriptive measures) allow for the use of at least one type of telehealth modality to be used in the place of an in-person visit.
Currently, telehealth services can pursue recognition under Connected Care for episodic care or Patient Centered Medical Home if they are providing primary care.