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Over nine million Medicare beneficiaries have received a telehealth service during the COVID-19 public health emergency and CMS is open to continuing some beyond the pandemic, according to a new Health Affairs blog post written by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma.

CMS has issued an array of waivers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the goal of increasing access to telehealth. These changes include broadening the scope of providers eligible to deliver Medicare telehealth services as well as more than doubling the list of services which can be delivered via telehealth. Verma writes that 13,000 beneficiaries received telehealth services before the public health emergency, compared to 1.7 million during the last week of April.

CMS also expanded telehealth to include audio-only technologies, a key policy priority for C-TAC. Verma now writes that 3 million beneficiaries have received telehealth services via traditional telephone during the public health emergency, making up nearly one-third of total telehealth visits and that many could only receive telehealth that way.

“The use of audio-only telehealth services has also been shown to be helpful for the Medicare population during the public health emergency, as many patients may not have access to or feel comfortable using video technology,” Verma writes.

Verma notes that early data is causing CMS to consider which of these changes should become permanent.

“The rapid explosion in the number of telehealth visits has transformed the health care delivery system,” writes Verma, “raising the question of whether returning to the status quo turns back the clock on innovation.”

C-TAC has been consistently advocating for making flexibilities like audio-only telehealth permanent. To read our latest recommendations, please click here.

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