COVID-19 has led to dramatic increases in adoption of telehealth by both physicians and patients. Policymakers should seize the opportunity to make permanent policy that supports many of these advancements beyond the pandemic.
In the March 15, 2022, episode of Moving Medicine, AMA Chief Experience Officer Todd Unger discusses the importance of protecting the future of telehealth with Jason Marino, AMA director of Congressional Affairs.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, with strong support of the AMA, the restrictions on coverage for telehealth services were lifted by Medicare and other health plans.
Unfortunately, many of the telehealth flexibilities that have greatly improved patient access to care throughout the pandemic are set to expire five months after the end of the national public health emergency. In a survey (PDF) conducted by the AMA on telehealth usage, nearly 70% of physician respondents reported an interest in continuing to provide telehealth services. However, much of this continued use and expansion of services will not be possible with a return to the previous lack of insurance coverage and payer reimbursement.
Achieving permanent Medicare coverage of telehealth services for patients, including allowing them to continue receiving these services in their homes, is important for patient access to care. The AMA is working to ensure (PDF) physicians have the tools, resources and support to seamlessly integrate telehealth into their practices without financial risk or penalty.
Prior to March 2020, the Medicare program only paid for telehealth services in very limited circumstances:
During the nationwide COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE), the AMA successfully advocated for Medicare to pay for telehealth:
The AMA also strongly supports a law enacted in March 2022 that will extend many of the telehealth policies that were put in place for the PHE for an additional five months after the PHE ends.
The biggest challenge now is to get legislation enacted that will permanently lift the rural-only and originating site restrictions (PDF) on telehealth coverage for Medicare patients.
The AMA provides state-level policy guidance and recommendations to expand coverage, access and payment of telehealth services.
On the state level, the AMA has been working to:
Additionally, the AMA supported the adoption of “The Appropriate Use of Telemedicine Technologies in the Practice of Medicine”by the Federation of State Medical Boards as an update to their 2014 guidelines. The new document provides guidance to state medical boards on the use of telemedicine in the health care setting and can serve as a model policy for the permanent adoption of telemedicine at the state level.
The AMA has created an issue brief (PDF) outlining specific policy proposals to take significant and necessary steps toward promoting and ensuring equity in telehealth.
To address the dramatic increase in telemedicine use as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) House of Delegates recently updated and adopted “The Appropriate Use of Telemedicine Technologies in the Practice of Medicine.” During this AMA Advocacy Insights webinar, experts from the FSMB provide an overview of the updated policy, discuss current state licensure laws regarding telemedicine and outline continued solutions that can be implemented moving forward.