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Bipartisan Bill Relaxes Federal Telehealth Requirements in the Wake of COVID-19

On March 4, 2020, the House passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020, a bipartisan bill to aid in COVID-19 preparedness and response. The bill includes, among other things, provisions that waive certain telehealth requirements during the COVID-19 public health emergency to ensure Medicare beneficiaries can receive telehealth services at home to avoid placing themselves at greater risk of the virus.

Generally, Medicare beneficiaries may only receive telehealth services as a Medicare covered service if:

  • The beneficiary (patient) is located in a qualifying rural area;

  • The beneficiary is located at one of eight types of qualifying originating sites;

  • The services are provided by one of 10 categories of distant site practitioners eligible to furnish and receive Medicare payment for telehealth services;

  • The beneficiary and distant site practitioner communicate via an interactive audio and video telecommunications system that permits real-time communication between them—telephones, fax machines and email do not meet this requirement; and

  • The CPT/HCPCs code for the service is on the list of covered Medicare telehealth services.

The bill gives the secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the authority to waive the originating site requirement for telehealth services provided to Medicare beneficiaries located in any identified emergency area during emergency periods by a qualified provider. An “emergency area” is a geographical area in which, and an “emergency period” is the period during which, there exists: (a) an emergency or disaster declared by the president pursuant to the National Emergencies Act or the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act; and (b) a public health emergency declared by the secretary. The bill also allows telehealth services to be provided to Medicare beneficiaries via phone, but only if the phone allows for audio-video interaction between the provider and the beneficiary.

The bill takes important steps to allow healthcare providers to deploy telehealth resources in response to COVID-19 and other public health emergencies, and allows Medicare beneficiaries to receive telehealth services from the comfort of their home (even via their smart phone) without risk of exposure. While the bill represents a further step in the expansion of the availability of telehealth services, we should be careful not to overstate its impact. The waiver of the originating site requirement and expansion of telemedicine modalities is limited to emergency areas identified by the president and secretary during emergency periods. Accordingly, as a practical matter, this expansion of availability of telehealth reimbursement is very limited. In addition, healthcare providers must still comply with state laws and regulations that govern telehealth, including, but not limited to, professional licensure, scope of practice, standard of care, patient consent and other reimbursement requirements for non-Medicare beneficiaries.

The bill offers a welcome relaxation of the rigid Medicare requirements for telehealth reimbursement during a time of stress within the healthcare industry. It also represents another, albeit small, step in the gradual acceptance of telehealth within the healthcare reimbursement sector.

© 2020 McDermott Will & EmeryNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 65
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About this Author

Marshall E. Jackson, Jr. Partner  Washington, DC Regulatory, Government & Lobbying Strategies  Healthcare  Digital Health
Partner

Marshall E. Jackson, Jr. focuses his practice on transactional and regulatory counseling for clients in the healthcare industry, as well as advises clients on the legal, regulatory and compliance aspects of digital health.

 

Health Transactions and Regulatory Compliance

Marshall provides counseling and advice to hospitals and health systems, private equity firms and their portfolio companies, post/sub-acute providers, physician practices, and other public and private healthcare companies in a variety of complex transactions and health regulatory...

202-756-8019
Lisa Schmitz Mazur, Health Law Attorney, McDermott Will Law Firm
Partner

Lisa Schmitz Mazur is a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Firm’s Chicago office.  Lisa maintains a general health industry practice, focusing on the representation of hospitals and health systems and other health industry providers.

Lisa’s representation of hospitals and health systems includes providing guidance on not-for-profit corporate governance matters, tax-exemption issues, conflict of interest compliance and overall corporate compliance effectiveness.  In addition, Lisa regularly assists hospital and health system clients to develop and negotiate physician compensation programs, and prepare agreements with physicians and helps to guide governing boards and committees in the review and approval of such arrangements. 

Digital Health

Lisa advises a variety of healthcare providers and technology companies involved in “digital health” – the intersection of health software applications, analytical tools, medical technology and electronic data assets enabled by the Internet and mobile devices – on the applicable legal and regulatory infrastructure, with a particular focus on telehealth, telemedicine, mobile health and consumer wellness programs. For example, Lisa has assisted numerous clients in developing and implementing telemedicine programs by advising on issues related to professional licensure, scope of practice, informed consent, prescribing and reimbursement. Lisa assists her clients to identify and understand the relevant legal issues and develop and implement practical, forward-thinking solutions and strategies that meet the complex and still-evolving digital health regulatory landscape.

In addition to writing extensively on matters related to her digital health practice, Lisa has spoken at numerous conferences on a variety of digital health topics. She is the co-editor of McDermott’s Of Digital Interest  blog, co-chairs the Interstate Collaboration in Healthcare Stakeholder Group and chairs the Illinois Telehealth Law Forum Program Planning Committee

Lisa also co-leads the Firm’s Digital Health affinity group, which brings together McDermott lawyers from within and outside the Health Industry Advisory Practice Group to develop thought leadership, share information and collaborate on best practices.

312-984-3275
Dale Van Demark, health care, attorney, McDermott Will, law firm
Partner

Dale C. Van Demark is a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Firm’s Washington, D.C., office.  He focuses his practice on a broad array of merger, acquisition, investment, and strategic structuring transactions, with clients in the health industry. He has extensive experience in health system affiliation and restructuring transactions and regularly represents for-profit and tax-exempt clients in a variety of transactions, including strategic transactions with physicians and hospitals. He regularly advises clients regarding the opportunities...

202-756-8177
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