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June 25, 2020

The Lasting Impact Of COVID-19 On Telehealth Expansion

The impacts of COVID-19 appear set to permanently expand telehealth and fundamentally transform how and where providers practice. During the past three months, major temporary federal policy changes were made in response to the pandemic, including expanding access to telehealth services for people with Medicare, reimbursement for additional services when furnished via telehealth, and a temporary loosening of HIPAA regulations. On June 17, Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Lamar Alexander (R - TN), indicated that he supports making key telehealth policy changes, and laid out two of the most important temporary changes that he believes should become permanent. These changes include removing originating site restrictions to allow Medicare to cover at-home telehealth visits and covering more specialty visits under Medicare and Medicaid. Alexander said the pandemic created, “an opportunity to learn from and act upon these last three months of intensive telehealth experience, specifically, what permanent changes need to be made in federal and state policies,” and emphasized the importance for Congress to act on telehealth expansion legislation this year.

Private insurers and many states, including state licensing boards, temporarily instituted sweeping changes such as expanding telehealth coverage, loosening state telehealth regulations, and waiving foreign state licensing requirements. For example, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee permanently expanded telehealth coverage to improve access and care to its members. Providers should closely monitor changes to telehealth expansion on the state and federal levels, as well as changes private insurers implement on a permanent basis, and evaluate opportunities to practice in an expanded telehealth landscape.