FTC Comment Supports Provisions in Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Interim Final Rule that Reduce or Eliminate Restrictive Medicare Payment Requirements for Telehealth and Related Services during Pandemic

The staffs of the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Policy Planning, Bureau of Economics, Bureau of Competition, and Office of the General Counsel have submitted a comment to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, on its Interim Final Rule with Comment Period, or IFC. The IFC sets forth policy and regulatory revisions made in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

The comment supports the IFC’s provisions that reduce or eliminate restrictive Medicare payment requirements for telehealth and other communication technology-based services during the public health emergency. By connecting widely separated providers and patients, telehealth can alleviate primary care and specialty shortages, especially in rural areas. Telehealth can also address the needs of urban patients who have difficulty accessing providers due to economic disparities and limited mobility. Expanding the availability of telehealth and other telecommunications-based services also may allow health care professionals to provide care safely to Medicare beneficiaries.

The comment also suggests ways to further reduce Medicare telehealth payment restrictions that may be unnecessary for safety and quality. The comment suggests that CMS use the experience it gains from reimbursing a broader set of telehealth services, providers, and communication technology-based services to develop empirical evidence on the effects of these policies and to consider whether some of the regulatory revisions discussed in the comment should be made permanent.

Specifically, the comment considers the IFC’s provisions with regard to 1) eliminating originating site and geographic requirements, thus allowing telehealth services to be provided to patients at any location, including the home; 2) expanding the types of services that may be furnished by telehealth; 3) providing for access to therapy services furnished by providers who are not statutorily authorized telehealth providers; 4) expanding the use of telehealth telecommunication modalities, including audio-only telephone; 5) allowing the use of communication technology-based services for new as well as established patients; and 6) allowing direct supervision required under Medicare’s “incident to” billing rules to be carried out via interactive telecommunications technology.

The Commission vote approving the comment to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services was 4-0-1, with Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter not participating.

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