Will Medicare continue to cover the cost of virtual visits with your doctor? The answer is yes – at least temporarily.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, effective March 15, 2022, extends telehealth services for an additional 151 days following the end of the federal public health emergency. The current public health emergency is scheduled to end April 16. Whether it expires then or gets extended depends on the federal government’s assessment of the covid threat level at that time. Many Americans are eager to put the pandemic behind them; others are more cautious, noting the recent surge of the BA.2 omnicron variant in Europe.
During the current emergency, Medicare has covered telehealth visits with physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse-midwives, clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, registered dieticians and nurse anesthetists. Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, Medicare will now also cover occupational therapists, physical therapists, audiologists, and speech-language pathologists. Additionally, Medicare beneficiaries may now receive services from any location, including their home; and those seeking mental health services are no longer required to first meet in person with the provider.
Reliance on virtual medical care increased dramatically during the pandemic. Steve Ommen, the medical director for the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Connected Care, says: “The experience with telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic has opened everyone’s eyes as the potential to deliver healthcare in much more safe and convenient ways.” Well, maybe not everyone: While a 2021 patient survey conducted by the American Medical Association, the American Telemedicine Association and Change Healthcare showed that 80% of patients are happy with virtual health care, the least satisfied group are those over the age of 65.
Once the 151-day buffer period ends, Congress must decide if Medicare coverage for virtual health care is permanent, and if so, what the parameters and limitations will be. The Medicare Advisory Committee and the Department of Health and Human Services will advise Congress on this matter in the months to come.