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By Andrew Donlan | March 17, 2020 One of the first moves from Washington, D.C., in reaction to COVID-19 was an $8.3 billion dollar funding bill that included some relaxed restrictions on telehealth services. On Tuesday, the U.S Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) advanced those efforts to make telehealth tools more accessible to health care providers and practitioners. It is unclear if the expansion directly allows home health agencies to bill Medicare for services furnished via telehealth. But even if the move doesn’t, the telehealth expansion will likely benefit home health providers in other ways. As a result of Tuesday’s announcement, Medicare can now pay for office, hospital and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country — “and including in patient’s places of residence” starting March 6, 2020. A range of providers — doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists and licensed clinical social workers — will be able to offer telehealth to their patients, according to CMS. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) is providing flexibility for health care providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal health care programs. Prior to Tuesday’s move, Medicare could only pay for telehealth on a limited basis. “The Trump Administration is taking swift and bold action to give patients greater access to care through telehealth during the COVID-19 outbreak,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement. “These changes allow seniors to communicate with their doctors without having to travel to a health care facility so that they can limit risk of exposure and spread of this virus. Clinicians on the frontlines will now have greater flexibility to safely treat our beneficiaries.” This is another step in the right direction, but there are additional steps that need to be taken, William A. Dombi, the president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), told HHCN. “The changes only apply to ‘practitioners.’ This does not include home health or hospice staff,” Dombi said. “We are asking that telehealth reimbursement be extended to home health agencies as well.”

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