Congress Grants Five Month Extension for Telehealth Flexibilities
On Tuesday, March 16, 2022, President Biden signed into law H.R. 2471, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022 (“2022 CAA”). This new law includes several provisions that extend the Medicare telehealth waivers and flexibilities, implemented as a result of COVID-19 to facilitate access to care, for an additional 151 days after the end of the Public Health Emergency (“PHE”). This equates to about a five-month period.
The 2022 CAA extension captures most of the core PHE telehealth flexibilities authorized as part of Medicare’s pandemic response, including the following:
Geographic Restrictions and Originating Sites: During the extension, Medicare beneficiaries can continue to receive telehealth services from anywhere in the country, including their home. Medicare is permitting telehealth services to be provided to patients at any site within the United States, not just qualifying zip codes or locations (e.g. physician offices/facilities).
Eligible Practitioners: Occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, and qualified audiologists will continue to be able to furnish and receive payment for telehealth services as eligible distant site practitioners during the extension period.
Mental Health: In-person requirements for certain mental health services will continue to be waived through the 151-day extension period.
Audio-Only Telehealth Services: Medicare will continue to provide coverage and payment for most telehealth services furnished using audio-only technology. This includes professional consultations, office visits, and office psychiatry services (identified as of July 1, 2000 by HCPCS Codes 99241-99275, 99201-99215, 90804-90809 and 90862) and any other services added to the telehealth list by the CMS Secretary for which CMS has not expressly required the use of real-time, interactive audio-visual equipment during the PHE.
Additionally, the 2022 CAA allocates $62,500,000 from the federal budget to be used for grants for telemedicine and distance learning services in rural areas. Such funds may be used to finance construction of facilities and systems providing telemedicine services and distance learning services in qualified “rural areas.”
Passage of the 2022 CAA is a substantial step in the right direction for stakeholders hoping to see permanent legislative change surrounding Medicare telehealth reimbursement.