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Medicare Opens Up Telemedicine For All

Telemedicine for all
Getting heath care by phone or video conferencing has been around for several decades, but the outbreak of coronavirus has led to an increase in telemedicine use that has never seen before, according to health systems and provider groups across the country.

Medicare recently changed its rules to permit all enrollees to use telemedicine. This option previously was available only to those living in remote areas and for a specific, brief checkup. Telemedicine for all Medicare enrollees is a significant change and opens up healthcare options for so many Americans.

Millions of Americans are connecting with a doctor electronically in an effort to practice social distancing, while decreasing the spread of the disease and protecting health workers.

Kaiser Health News’ recent article entitled  “Telemedicine Surges, Fueled By Coronavirus Fears And Shift In Payment Rules” explains that private technology companies and big health care systems can connect a physician directly to a patient who contacts them. All types of primary and specialty care and mental health services can be provided via telemedicine. Many hospitals have added telemedicine services to keep patients concerned about the coronavirus from overburdening their emergency rooms.

With the thought of keeping patients away from crowded medical facilities, government and private insurers have upped the payment for telemedicine visits, so they’re the same as in-person visits.

Another rule change is that the federal government will also permit doctors to practice across state lines during the pandemic to treat Medicare patients virtually, even if they are not licensed in the patient’s state. Many states have waived requirements that a physician be licensed in the state to provide care.

These telemedicine visits have limitations, like when practitioners need to listen to a patient’s lungs or order an X-ray to check for pneumonia. However, telemedicine also gives doctors a more complete view of the patients through observation of their home and interactions that they couldn’t see prior to this change.

The Medicare payment is significant because it covers a large number of patients and because private insurers usually follow Medicare policies. For years, some healthcare facilities have made telemedicine an option, but it didn’t make sense financially to promote it, because insurers paid less than half the rate they would for an in-person visit.

Proponents have for many years asked Medicare to broaden telemedicine for all, but federal officials have resisted due to their concerns of increased costs. Critics worried telemedicine wouldn’t replace in-person doctor visits but would result in more total visits, because of the ease with which people could connect to their doctors with telemedicine. The Trump administration had been working on expanding telemedicine options, even before the pandemic.

This moment in time should serve as a distinct reminder that everyone, regardless of age, in the Chicagoland area should have a valid Illinois Medical Power of attorney.  Speak to an experienced estate planning attorney about how to fill one out and execute it properly.

Reference: Kaiser Health News (March 27, 2020) “Telemedicine Surges, Fueled By Coronavirus Fears And Shift In Payment Rules”


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