Ever since the public health emergency (PHE) began during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, practices have gotten accustomed to the adjusted rules and regulations, which have included more telehealth flexibilities than ever before. However, when the PHE ends on May 11, many of those provisions will go away.
Find out which telehealth PHE rules will be lapsing (and which won’t) when the PHE’s end arrives next week.
Not Changing: Mental Health, Behavioral Services Over Telehealth
Among the provisions that won’t change on May 11 are the telehealth permissions that have applied to mental and behavioral health services, mainly because many of these involve talk therapy and don’t necessarily require taking temperatures, vitals, or other measurements.
Although it’s not clear whether these relaxed telehealth guidelines around mental health services will become permanent, it’s a good idea to keep an idea on your payer’s coverage determinations so you’re aware of when these services must convert back to face-to-face rather than being allowed over telehealth.
Not Changing Yet: Home Services, Audio-Only Visits
CMS has said that certain telehealth services won’t change on May 12, but are anticipated to change on Dec. 31, 2024. These include telehealth services that take place in a patient’s home, audio-only visits and more. These are going to stay in place through the end of next year, and could potentially be delayed even further. However, it’s good to know they won’t be going away this month.
Changing: Looser Technology Options
Prior to the PHE, any providers who wanted perform telehealth services had to invest in secure, HIPAA-compliant technology platforms to ensure that all communications remained protected. During the PHE, however, the government relaxed those guidelines, allowing you to perform telehealth over such platforms as Zoom or Teams. That will go away, however, when the PHE ends, and you must revert back to using secure, HIPAA-compliant programs for your telehealth visits.
Changing: Nimble Physician Rulemaking
As most practices are aware, the Medicare rulemaking process is normally very slow and arduous. Any time CMS wants to change the Medicare program, the agency sends out proposals and opens them up to a comment period, after which they take more time to determine which provisions to finalize and which to table. During the PHE, that didn’t happen as much, with CMS often releasing lists of CPT codes that could be performed via telehealth at a moment’s notice. This occurred without issuing proposals or accepting comments, and offered a glimpse into a nimble physician rulemaking process that fell outside the normal steps.
That will be going away with the end of the PHE. Therefore, if you’re looking for new codes to be added to the telehealth list, you’re not likely to see them show up as allowable overnight. Instead, they’ll fall under the typically arduous and slow rulemaking process.
Changing: Enforcement Discretion
During the PHE, many agencies such as the Office of Civil Rights, used its enforcement discretion to overlook things that would have been considered violations in the past, such as using higher-risk technologies (like FaceTime) for things like protected patient communications, or disclosing protected information about COVID exposure to family members. However, that will end, so keep in mind that enforcement agencies will be cracking down if you aren’t compliant with the post-PHE rules.
Seeking more information about how things might change when the PHE ends? Healthcare attorney and expert Adam Laughton, Esq., is here to help! During his 90-minute online training event, PHE Expires May 11: Prevent Telehealth Errors & Financial Losses, Adam will walk you through the changes that will hit on May 11 and which won’t. Sign up today!
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