Permanent and Temporary Telehealth by US Health Department

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The US Department of Health and Human Services had taken a range of administrative decisions to speed up the adoption and awareness of telehealth in times of COVID-19 health emergencies. Some of them have gone on to be permanent, while there are others that are temporary.

Recent legislation has gone on to authorise an extension when it comes to numerous Medicare telehealth flexibilities that happened to be in place during the pandemic through December 31, 2024.

 Permanent medical changes

  • Rural Health Clinics as well as Federally Qualified Health Centers can go on to serve as distant site providers when it comes to offering mental and behavioural telehealth services.
  • Medicare patients can go on to get telehealth services for mental and behavioural care at their homes.
  • There won’t be any geographic limitations when it comes to the originating site of mental and behavioural telehealth services.
  • Mental and behavioural telehealth services can be offered using communication platforms that are audio-only.
  • Rural Emergency Hospitals happen to be eligible sites of origination for telehealth.

 Temporary medical changes until December 31, 2024

  • Rural Health Clinics as well as Federally Qualified Health Centers can go on to serve as distant site providers when it comes to offering mental and non-behavioural telehealth services.
  • Medicare patients can go on to get telehealth services at their homes.
  • There won’t be any geographic limitations when it comes to the originating site of mental and non-behavioural telehealth services.
  • Mental and non-behavioural telehealth services can be offered using communication platforms that are audio-only.
  • An in-person appointment within the span of 6 months of an initial mental and behavioural telehealth service and thereafter annually is not required.
  • Telehealth services can be offered by all Medicare providers who happen to be eligible.

Soon after the pandemic began impacting the US, the CMS went on to suspend some telehealth care requirements as patients adhered to the stay-at-home order and avoided going out for their routine appointments. It is well to be noted that the CMS did relax its policies on which platforms can be used for telehealth and what medicines can be prescribed. The agency has also given its nod to telehealth audio-only visits.

Although some of these flexibilities are ending, there are many that will continue throughout this year or even 2024.

Jacob Harper, who happens to be one of the partners at a law firm, said that the extension of flexibilities helps providers with long-term investment and infrastructure planning; however, the provider is still unclear about what the spectrum will appear like in January 2025. He added that he was glad the PHE was ending and thought that while providers certainly have gone on to enjoy those kinds of flexibilities, it is time to move towards healthcare 2.0, or at least in the next phase, and come up with more permanent policies.

One of the key regulatory changes was that PHE allowed doctors to prescribe controlled substances without meeting in person. The doctor groups as well as patient advocates went on to urge for these prescribing facilities to become permanent as the policy helped individuals access treatment, especially in cases where there was an opioid disorder.

On May 9, the US Drug Enforcement Agency confirmed that the prescribing flexibilities would continue for the next six months. The ability to get telemental health services without an in-person meeting has been extended until the end of next year. Geographic as well as site origination requirements have also gotten an extension.

As per Harper, the Congress might as well go ahead with making some of the changes permanent, and there is a legislative appetite to do so. Flexibilities that happen to end with PHE go on to include those that allow providers to work across the state. Providers will go on to have an established patient relationship prior to initiating telehealth visits.

The data as well as the experiences that have been gathered because of the regulation rollbacks will go on to help providers gauge the role of telehealth in healthcare.