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Coronavirus legislation signed by the President on March 5, 2020, would allow Medicare to expand the use of telemedicine in outbreak areas, potentially reducing infection risks. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has encouraged people who feel sick to first talk to doctors remotely to avoid filling waiting rooms.

The bill gives the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary the power to suspend rules that restrict access to remote care, or telehealth. Medicare coverage of telemedicine is currently limited mainly to residents of rural areas for treatments by specialists. The bill would allow waiver of restrictions for all beneficiaries in traditional Medicare.

While telemedicine cannot take the place of a sample for scientific testing, it can help doctors to screen patients. Telemedicine would also offer a way for Medicare beneficiaries in outbreak areas to take care of ongoing medical issues without having to expose themselves to someone who is sick.

The legislation requires a doctor to have an established, ongoing relationship with the patient (the patient would have to have seen a doctor at that facility for another reason at some point in the past three years) and communication must take place through a two-way interactive video and voice link.

Medicare Coverage and Payment Related to COVID-19 Fact-Sheet:

Articles addressing the legislation:

March 12, 2020 – K. Holt

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