At least 10 million Medicare beneficiaries have used telehealth since early March, compared with about 13,000 weekly appointments pre-pandemic.
Lawmakers and regulators are looking at making some of the current expansions permanent.
Among the issues that policymakers would need to address are the cost and quality of remote care, as well as determining which services are appropriate for telemedicine.
Enter telehealth. As communities worked to stem the spread of the coronavirus through temporary business shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, lawmakers and regulators loosened policies to make remote health care through Medicare more broadly available during the public emergency.
Whether via video chat, a telephone call or other remote technology, telemedicine usage among Medicare beneficiaries spiked from pre-pandemic levels: At least 10 million Medicare beneficiaries have used telehealth since early March, according to a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Before then, there were roughly 13,000 appointments weekly.
Among the issues that policymakers would need to address are quality of care, the cost to beneficiaries and the services that are sensible for coverage.
Debbie, a 65-year-old Medicare beneficiary living near Middletown, Delaware, used telehealth — a face-to-face video on her smartphone — to get treatment for a bout of poison ivy. For reasons that include the nurse practitioner’s inability to see the allergic reaction in detail over video, she said she was unimpressed.
In Congress, there are several bills addressing telehealth expansion. The HEALS Act — introduced in the Senate as the Republican version of the next coronavirus relief package — includes a provision that would make the regulatory waivers permanent through the end of 2021. The Trump administration also is pushing for some permanency in telehealth usage with Medicare.
“I don’t think anyone thinks telehealth would replace in-person 100%,” Schwartz said. “But there’s a strong feeling that there is a role for telehealth visits.”