- Medicare Advantage plans will have the option of paying for additional telehealth benefits for patients treated from their homes in 2020, according to a new rule CMS finalized Friday.
- In addition to expanding telehealth coverage, the rule also seeks to improve the appeals process for dual eligible beneficiaries and adjust the star rating methodology for MA and Part D plans affected by "extreme circumstances" such as natural disasters.
- The rule builds on MA policies finalized last week that expand nontraditional benefits for patients with chronic conditions, including covering fresh produce for those with heart disease and carpet cleaning for beneficiaries with asthma.
Health insurers have been cashing in on the wildly popular MA market, where enrollment and participation have been growing steadily. That growth is expected to continue with added telehealth and nontraditional benefits that aren't available to traditional Medicare beneficiaries, and most likely won't be under the current administration.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma tweeted Friday that the agency permitted coverage of virtual check-ins for rural patients enrolled in traditional Medicare this year. This new rule will grant greater flexibility for MA plans, which have historically been able to offer more benefits for their enrollees regardless of geography, and will be able to stretch those benefits even further in 2020.
"Today's policies represent a historic step in bringing innovative technology to Medicare beneficiaries," Verma said in a statement.
Verma added that these new flexibilities available for MA plans will allow beneficiaries to receive more benefits at reduced costs and higher quality. While the industry has been abuzz about telehealth, many providers have been slow to fully embrace its still-nascent technologies. A Deloitte survey conducted in July found only 14% of physicians are currently able to offer virtual visits. Respondents cited a lack of capability and concerns about patient privacy and medical errors.
Similar surveys from Deloitte and others have found telehealth benefits have improved patient satisfaction and access to care. Researchers at the University of Iowa found patients were seen six times faster at rural hospitals using telemedicine in their emergency departments than those that didn't have that option.