INDIANAPOLIS (WISH/AP) — Seniors on Medicare now have new tools to help them see the doctor without actually going into the office.
The Trump administration said Tuesday it will immediately expand Medicare coverage for telemedicine nationwide to help seniors with health problems stay home to avoid the coronavirus.
The new option will allow millions of older people to take care of ongoing medical problems as well as new concerns, while heeding public health advice to stay home during the outbreak.
“This is such a big deal for us because the most important things that folks can do during the important crisis is to stay at home. And we still want to care for our patients and the safest place is in your home. And so to be able to do this instead of the traditional face-to-face visit, now we can do this by telephone or video visits,” said Dr. John Kunzer, president of Community Physician Network.
Kunzer says Tuesday’s announcement allows clinicians and hospitals to bill Medicare for visits via telemedicine that previously had to take place in person, at a medical office or facility.
Kunzer says Community Health has already converted about 50-80% of patients over to telehealth patient care, while some people are still being seen in person.
Kunzer says these visits can be done over telemedicine apps like Teledoc or MD Live.
But he adds the directive also loosens regulations so doctors can now also take calls over Skype or Facetime.
“This absolutely needed to be done. We at Community Health Network started to do this last week even though there wasn’t the funding for it and we weren’t being reimbursed for it. It was the right thing to do. This now allows us to get that reimbursement,” Kunzer said.
For seniors who don’t navigate technology, relatives or friends can assist. Kunzer says in the past, calls over FaceTime and Skype weren’t considered secure enough to be covered under HIPAA.
But now under the new rules, the Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights will not be enforcing applicable HIPAA violations.
Expanded telemedicine coverage will remain in effect during the outbreak of the virus.
“Telehealth is the future. We look forward to doing more of these visits in the future. We will get over this crisis and we will make it through. People just need to stay at home,” Kunzer said.
Kunzer says he expects other providers to follow Medicare’s lead and also expand their telehealth coverage during this pandemic.