Telehealth allows delivery of health care, health education and health information services using remote technologies and allows patients to visit their physicians using virtual technology.
On March 17, 2020, in response to COVID-19 public health emergency, CMS loosened restrictions on telehealth use for all Medicare beneficiaries. This expanded telehealth coverage allows all Medicare beneficiaries to receive telehealth from their homes and offers payment at the same rate as in-service care.
A recent report by HHS investigated telehealth use during the COVID-19 public health emergency using Medicare Fee-For-Service Part B claims for primary care visits during January-June 2020 and finds that:
- Among Medicare beneficiaries, the number of telehealth visits were limited in the beginning majorly due to restrictions on telehealth use, began to rise in April after telehealth coverage was expanded
“Nearly half of all Medicare primary care visits were via telehealth in April, compared with less than 1% in February before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic”
- Both rural and urban counties had an increase in telehealth primary care visits, but it was more significant in urban counties. Providers in rural counties saw smaller growth in telehealth visits as compared to providers in urban counties
“Among the 15 most populous urban areas, the proportion of total primary care visits delivered by telehealth in April ranged from 37% in Phoenix to nearly three quarters in Boston”