Telehealth – Here to Stay (At Least for Now): CMS Considers Permanent Expansion of Telehealth Services in Proposed Rule

Alerts / July 15, 2021

On July 13, 2021, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published its annual proposed changes to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. Among the 1,747 pages of proposals, one notable standout is the announcement that CMS is considering permanently keeping the temporary additions to the list of approved telehealth services that was expanded during the COVID-19 public health emergency. To conduct its evaluation, CMS plans to keep the temporarily added services on the list until at least Dec. 31, 2023.

CMS also announced changes to reimbursement for audio-only interactive telehealth and plans to allow audio-only services (i.e., telephone calls) for use in mental and behavioral health counseling and therapy services (including opioid treatment programs). Under this proposal, CMS would require all other telehealth services to be conducted with real-time, audio-video, interactive technology. Other changes for mental and behavioral telehealth that CMS is proposing are:

  • Requiring an in-person mental health service within six months prior to the initial telehealth services, and then in-person services would be required at least once every six months; however, CMS may change the interval.
  • Permitting mental and behavioral health providers to furnish audio-only telehealth services to established patients in their homes if such patients either have technical limitations or choose not to use interactive video.
  • CMS also may begin monitoring the use of audio-only telehealth services, requiring providers to include a new modifier on claims for audio-only telehealth services.

If finalized, these changes to telehealth services will be effective for CY 2022.

Authorship Credit: Jennifer Whitton and Greg Tanner

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