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Does Medicare Cover Telehealth?

Medicare beneficiaries can now speak to their doctor from home without having to visit a physician's office for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

3 mins read
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A recent survey shows that seniors across the U.S. have embraced technology amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  In particular, telehealth has been a popular approach for seniors to continue to receive healthcare services without unnecessarily having to visit healthcare facilities in person. So, does Medicare cover telehealth? First, let’s find out what telehealth covers.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth, also known as telemedicine, enables patients to get health care services remotely using electronic communication devices like computers, tablets, and mobile phones. This method makes health care accessible, particularly to those living in rural or isolated areas.  Plus, this service is beneficial for people who find it difficult to travel or move around.

In response to COVID-19, telehealth has been the recommended approach where appropriate for patients to continue receiving care from doctors/physicians.

A 2020 survey notes that the use of telemedicine services among seniors increased 300% during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 40% of seniors having used telehealth services since the pandemic.

Does Original Medicare Cover Telehealth?

Traditionally Original Medicare, Medicare Part B (medical insurance) only covered telehealth services under specific circumstances.

For example, the beneficiary receiving the services must have lived in a rural area and traveled to a local medical facility to get telehealth services from a doctor in a remote location. Also, the beneficiary would generally not be allowed to receive telehealth services in their home.

However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has introduced a waiver that broadens telehealth services covered under Medicare.

Impact of COVID-19: Expansion of Medicare-covered Telehealth Services

In March 2020, as a response to the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), the federal government expanded Medicare’s telehealth benefits through an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act and the National Emergencies Act.

Under the expansion, a range of providers, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, can now offer a specific set of telehealth services. The services include:
– Evaluation and management visits (standard office visits)
– Mental health counseling
– Emergency department visits
– Preventive health screenings

It is important to note that new flexibilities concerning coverage of telehealth services for all beneficiaries in traditional Medicare are only available on a time-limited basis. These services were set to continue to take effect until the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared that the PHE has ended.

The Biden Administration’s plan is to end the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) on May 11, 2023.

With this, the federal government announced a series of policy changes that temporarily broaden Medicare coverage for telehealth. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 extended many of the telehealth flexibility waivers that were passed under Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 through December 31, 2024.

Does Medicare Advantage Cover Telehealth?

Traditionally, Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans have the flexibility to offer more telehealth services as part of their supplemental benefits.  These are more than what Original Medicare could provide, such as allowing for telehealth services at home (traditionally not covered under Original Medicare pre-pandemic).

While the federal government has temporarily expanded its coverage of telehealth services, Medicare Advantage plans have continued to improve telehealth access.  In 2023, the vast majority (97%) of Medicare Advantage plans offer telehealth.

Many Medicare Advantage plans provide telehealth visits for a $0 copay as part of their regular supplemental benefits.  For those wanting permanent telehealth services as part of their benefits, Medicare Advantage plans are a great way to access telehealth.

Does Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Cover Telehealth?

As Original Medicare already covers telehealth, Medicare Supplement (Medigap) will also cover telehealth costs and reduce your costs by paying for our Part B coinsurance.

Does Medicare Cover Telehealth For Physical Therapy?

Yes, temporarily to expanded allowable services during COVID-19. CMS added private-practice physical therapists (PT) and physical therapist assistants (PTA) to provide telehealth services under Medicare Part B. Previously, only limited e-visits and other select services were allowed. The same rates apply for in-person and telehealth consultations for physical therapy.

Does Medicare Cover Telehealth For Mental Health?

Yes – during the pandemic, Medicare will now cover mental health services provided by telephone, even if there is no video. Psychologists working from home can give psychological and neuropsychological testing, group psychotherapy, developmental screening, and adaptive behavior assessment and treatment.  Previously, only psychology sessions conducted in real-time, two-way interactive communication (audio and video) were reimbursable by Medicare.

Does Medicare Cover Telehealth For Patients In Assisted Living And Nursing Homes?

Yes, temporarily. Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage do not cover assisted living costs. However, as part of the temporary expansion of services, CMS has enabled Medicare to pay for office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country, including patients’ homes and assisted living and nursing home facilities.

Final Words

Does Medicare cover telehealth? Thankfully, yes. The federal government has temporarily expanded the services covered by Original Medicare during the COVID-19 pandemic.  With telehealth services, Medicare enrollees have faster access to medical advice while reducing their exposure to COVID-19. Another advantage is that the cost of telehealth services is the same as in-person visits.

However, it is essential to note that the expansion of covered services under Original Medicare may only be temporary during the COVID-19 emergency.  For those wanting more permanent access to telehealth services, a Medicare Advantage plan is the best solution.

At CoverRight, we’re here to help you find the right coverage that you deserve.   Reach out today and start finding the best Medicare plan for you.

Richard Chan

Richard is the Founder of CoverRight and based in New York. He is passionate about empowering consumers to take control of their health and finances. Prior to starting CoverRight, Richard had extensive experience working in financial services with over 8 years' experience in consumer lending and investment banking.

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