When coronavirus hit us earlier this year, it created a severe public health crisis. Heading into winter, we face a second wave of the pandemic, with signs that it will get worse before it gets better. Through it all, telehealth has played a critical role in offering healthcare services in our homes’ safe and secure environment. It makes the most sense to continue to improve healthcare access through telehealth, but the question remains: Who pays for telehealth hardware in the home?
Significant progress has been made with Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) now permiting telehealth services to be provided to its members. They allow healthcare providers to be reimbursed for these services. Guidelines are in place to give practitioners the ability to follow best practices and legal requirements necessary for coding (CPT) and billing. CMS has made certain exceptions for equipment and HIPAA requirements so that doctors and patients can use platforms they already use such as FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom, etc.
Medicare Needs to Go a Step Further
While all of this is great, there are still no set guidelines to help patients pay for telehealth devices. Yes, some patients can FaceTime a doctor, but what about those without smartphones, tablets, or computers? Over 96% of seniors are on Medicare. Seniors are our most at-risk demographic and also the most difficult to reach; many are without a smart device in their home. They also make up 50% of the total healthcare spending in the United States. While Medicare provides reimbursement to healthcare providers for telehealth services, healthcare is still out of reach for many of our elderly. How do we correct this alarming situation?
Medicare needs to establish requirements and associated codes that allow for technology developed specifically for telehealth and its associated healthcare services. Medicare also must establish new requirements for developing and approving technologies centered on delivering telehealth services to all demographics. These systems enable all medical professionals to provide and receive reimbursement for equipment and services, thus, ensuring access to quality healthcare for all Americans.
Reimbursing products designed specifically for telehealth is the key to reaching our seniors. It is the missing link for those unable or unwilling to use computers, cellphones, or tablets.