Apr 30, 2020
CMS officially announced video is not required for telehealth encounters and Audio-only encounters will be reimbursed at the same rate as telehealth visits!
The changes are retroactive to March 1st.
At President Trump’s direction, and building on its recent historic efforts to help the U.S. healthcare system manage the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services today issued another round of sweeping regulatory waivers and rule changes to deliver expanded care to the nation’s seniors and provide flexibility to the healthcare system as America reopens. These changes include making it easier for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to get tested for COVID-19 and continuing CMS’s efforts to further expand beneficiaries’ access to telehealth services.
CMS is taking action to ensure states and localities have the flexibilities they need to ramp up diagnostic testing and access to medical care, key precursors to ensuring a phased, safe, and gradual reopening of America.
Today’s actions are informed by requests from healthcare providers as well as by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. CMS’s goals during the pandemic are to 1) expand the healthcare workforce by removing barriers for physicians, nurses, and other clinicians to be readily hired from the local community or other states; 2) ensure that local hospitals and health systems have the capacity to handle COVID-19 patients through temporary expansion sites (also known as the CMS Hospital Without Walls initiative); 3) increase access to telehealth for Medicare patients so they can get care from their physicians and other clinicians while staying safely at home; 4) expand at-home and community-based testing to minimize transmission of COVID-19 among Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries; and 5) put patients over paperwork by giving providers, healthcare facilities, Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, and states temporary relief from many reporting and audit requirements so they can focus on patient care.
“I’m very encouraged that the sacrifices of the American people during the pandemic are working. The war is far from over, but in various areas of the country the tide is turning in our favor,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Building on what was already extraordinary, unprecedented relief for the American healthcare system, CMS is seeking to capitalize on our gains by helping to safely reopen the American healthcare system in accord with President Trump’s guidelines.”
Made possible by President Trump’s recent emergency declaration and emergency rule making, many of CMS’s temporary changes will apply immediately for the duration of the Public Health Emergency declaration. They build on an unprecedented array of temporary regulatory waivers and new rules CMS announced March 30 and April 10. Providers and states do not need to apply for the blanket waivers announced today and can begin using the flexibilities immediately. CMS also is requiring nursing homes to inform residents, their families, and representatives of COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities.
New rules to support and expand COVID-19 diagnostic testing for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries
“Testing is vital, and CMS’s changes will make getting tested easier and more accessible for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries,” Verma said.
Under the new waivers and rule changes, Medicare will no longer require an order from the treating physician or other practitioner for beneficiaries to get COVID-19 tests and certain laboratory tests required as part of a COVID-19 diagnosis. During the Public Health Emergency, COVID-19 tests may be covered when ordered by any healthcare professional authorized to do so under state law. To help ensure that Medicare beneficiaries have broad access to testing related to COVID-19, a written practitioner’s order is no longer required for the COVID-19 test for Medicare payment purposes.
Pharmacists can work with a physician or other practitioner to provide assessment and specimen collection services, and the physician or other practitioner can bill Medicare for the services. Pharmacists also can perform certain COVID-19 tests if they are enrolled in Medicare as a laboratory, in accordance with a pharmacist’s scope of practice and state law. With these changes, beneficiaries can get tested at “parking lot” test sites operated by pharmacies and other entities consistent with state requirements. Such point-of-care sites are a key component in expanding COVID-19 testing capacity.
CMS will pay hospitals and practitioners to assess beneficiaries and collect laboratory samples for COVID-19 testing, and make separate payment when that is the only service the patient receives. This builds on previous action to pay laboratories for technicians to collect samples for COVID-19 testing from homebound beneficiaries and those in certain non-hospital settings, and encourages broader testing by hospitals and physician practices.
To help facilitate expanded testing and reopen the country, CMS is announcing that Medicare and Medicaid are covering certain serology (antibody) tests, which may aid in determining whether a person may have developed an immune response and may not be at immediate risk for COVID-19 reinfection. Medicare and Medicaid will cover laboratory processing of certain FDA-authorized tests that beneficiaries self-collect at home.
Additional highlights of the waivers and rule changes announced today:
Increase Hospital Capacity – CMS Hospitals Without Walls
Under its Hospitals Without Walls initiative. CMS has taken multiple steps to allow hospitals to provide services in other healthcare facilities and sites that aren’t part of the existing hospital, and to set up temporary expansion sites to help address patient needs. Previously, hospitals were required to provide services within their existing departments.
Healthcare Workforce Augmentation:
To bolster the U.S. healthcare workforce amid the pandemic, CMS continues to remove barriers for hiring and retaining physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to keep staffing levels high at hospitals, health clinics, and other facilities. CMS also is cutting red tape so that health professionals can concentrate on the highest-level work they’re licensed for.
Put Patients Over Paperwork/Decrease Administrative Burden
CMS continues to ease federal rules and institute new flexibilities to ensure that states and localities can focus on caring for patients during the pandemic and that care is not delayed due to administrative red tape.
Further Expand Telehealth in Medicare:
CMS directed a historic expansion of telehealth services so that doctors and other providers can deliver a wider range of care to Medicare beneficiaries in their homes. Beneficiaries thus don’t have to travel to a healthcare facility and risk exposure to COVID-19.
In addition, CMS is making changes to the Medicare Shared Savings Program to give the 517 accountable care organizations (ACOs) serving more than 11 million beneficiaries greater financial stability and predictability during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACOs are groups of doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers, that come together voluntarily to give coordinated high-quality care to their Medicare patients. The goal of coordinated care is to ensure that patients get the right care at the right time, while avoiding unnecessary duplication of services and preventing medical errors. When an ACO succeeds both in delivering high-quality care and spending healthcare dollars more wisely, it may share in any savings it achieves for the Medicare program.
Because the impact of the pandemic varies across the country, CMS is making adjustments to the financial methodology to account for COVID-19 costs so that ACOs will be treated equitably regardless of the extent to which their patient populations are affected by the pandemic. CMS is also forgoing the annual application cycle for 2021 and giving ACOs whose participation is set to end this year the option to extend for another year. ACOs that are required to increase their financial risk over the course of their current agreement period in the program will have the option to maintain their current risk level for next year, instead of being advanced automatically to the next risk level.
CMS is permitting states operating a Basic Health Program to submit revised BHP Blueprints for temporary changes tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency that are not restrictive and could be effective retroactive to the first day of the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration. Previously, revised BHP Blueprints could only be submitted prospectively.
CMS sets and enforces essential quality and safety standards for the nation’s healthcare system. It is also the nation’s largest health insurer, serving more than 140 million Americans through Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and federal Health Insurance Exchanges.
For additional background information on the waivers and rule changes, go to: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/additional-backgroundsweeping-regulatory-changes-help-us-healthcare-system-address-covid-19-patient
For more information on the COVID-19 waivers and guidance, and the Interim Final Rule, please go to the CMS COVID-19 flexibilities webpage: https://www.cms.gov/about-cms/emergency-preparedness-response-operations/current-emergencies/coronavirus-waivers.
These actions, and earlier CMS actions in response to COVID-19, are part of the ongoing White House Coronavirus Task Force efforts. To keep up with the important work the Task Force is doing in response to COVID-19, visit www.coronavirus.gov. For a complete and updated list of CMS actions, and other information specific to CMS, please visit the Current Emergencies Website.
We hope this helps clear things up about doing audio-only visits during the pandemic!