The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced that they are extending the flexibilities related to Medicare telemedicine services due to the Covid-19 pandemic until November 11, 2023. This extension is part of HHS’ ongoing effort to expand access to quality healthcare for all Americans during this unprecedented time.
The flexibilities allow Medicare beneficiaries nationwide to receive a wider range of health services from home using telecommunications technology, such as video conferencing. This includes new telemedicine guidelines allowing for the prescribing of controlled substances with no in-person visit to a doctor. These guidelines allow for exemptions to the Ryan Haight Act, which previously required an in-person visit prior to the issuance of a controlled substance prescription. These expanded services will help ensure those living in rural communities or otherwise unable to make in-person office visits have access to the care they need.
These telemedicine flexibilities authorize practitioners to prescribe schedule II–V controlled medications via audio-video telemedicine encounters, including schedule III–V narcotic controlled medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for maintenance and withdrawal management treatment of opioid use disorder via audio-only telemedicine encounters, without requiring an in-person medical evaluation. The flexibility also permits clinicians to receive reimbursement at the same rate as in-person visits, including for services that would normally require an in-person visit. This should help encourage healthcare providers to take advantage of telemedicine services and provide quality care for their patients.
Additionally, HHS has increased its focus on rural health by providing additional funding and resources for telehealth technology. The Rural Health Care Program assists eligible healthcare providers with acquiring the necessary hardware, software, and connectivity solutions to enable effective online patient communication.
Expanding telemedicine services is an essential step toward improving patient access and outcomes. By ensuring everyone has access to quality health care no matter where they live, we can help promote better overall health and well-being for all Americans.