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The Extension of Telehealth Flexibilities

The use of telehealth within Medicare has been restricted in the past to specific locations and circumstances. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, extensions to telehealth in the Medicare space were granted as patients faced difficulty accessing in-person medical services. The extension also allowed Medicare to temporarily reimburse telehealth appointments at the same rate as in-office visits along with other flexibilities.

Since the pace of the pandemic has slowed, debates on what granted flexibilities should be extended, or even made permanent, have grown. While telehealth in general has seen bipartisan support, questions of cost, time, and risk of fraud have been the driving force behind the majority of debates.

Though such debates are ongoing, in late December 2022, Congress proposed a $1.7 trillion spending bill that includes the extension of HHS rules granting greater flexibility with regard to telehealth. The omnibus bill extends provisions put in place during the public health emergency for an additional two years but, does not outline the permanent extension of said flexibilities.

Telehealth’s popularity skyrocketed during the pandemic and has since fallen to nearly a third of pandemic numbers. However, even with the drop, telehealth usage rates are still above that of pre-pandemic numbers.

Considering usage and the temporary status of the updates proposed in the new bill, speculation suggests that this will not be the final debate on extending, or even making permanent, the telehealth flexibilities granted during the pandemic.

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