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Home Health Agencies Can Continue Telemedicine Beyond Pandemic (1)

June 25, 2020, 10:04 PMUpdated: June 25, 2020, 10:42 PM

Nurses and aides who give people health care in their homes can continue to be paid under Medicare for offering telehealth services after the Covid-19 public health emergency ends, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services proposed Thursday.

Home health providers also can expect a 2.6% increase in Medicare payments next year, about $540 million, the CMS said.

Medicare’s home health benefit provides in-home nursing care for homebound beneficiaries who need therapy or skilled clinical care. But in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, more patients have asked that clinicians and nurses not come into their homes. The administration loosened payment restrictions on telehealth in March to facilitate more remote care during the pandemic.

The CMS’s proposed rule for 2021, which will be finalized in a few months, says home health agencies can continue to be paid for telehealth as long as the telecommunications technology is related to the skilled services being furnished and is outlined on the plan of care. The technology also has to be tied to a specific health goal for the patient.

This rule also would allow home health agencies to continue to report the costs of telecommunications technology as allowable administrative costs after the pandemic.

Home Infusion

The rule also proposes requirements for in-home infusion of IV drugs. Home health agencies and lawmakers have been calling for a policy change to certain Medicare benefits to let more patients who need lifesaving IV drugs get those medications at home during the coronavirus outbreak.

The changes proposed under Thursday’s rule would extend beyond the pandemic. The administration plans to create a new set of criteria for home infusion therapy providers. Those suppliers would have to be enrolled in Medicare, accredited by a government-approved organization, and ensure safe and effective care on a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day basis.

The CMS is also looking at making permanent other temporary changes to telehealth instituted during the pandemic. The agency has the authority to allow other types of services, like physical therapy, to be done through telemedicine and to allow for doctors to do a higher number of visits through telehealth, Emily Yoder, an analyst in the CMS Center for Medicare Divison of Practioner Services, said during the American Telemedicine Association conference Thursday.

Yoder also said that any changes would be done through the physician fee schedule rule, which typically is proposed in July.

—With assistance from Shira Stein

(Adds additional information in eighth and ninth paragraphs.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Fawn Johnson in Washington at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Karen Ertel at kertel@bloomberglaw.com; Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com