Permanent Expansion of Medicare Telehealth Services
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 1, 2020
Contact: CMS Media Relations CMS Media Inquiries
Trump Administration Finalizes Permanent Expansion of Medicare Telehealth Services and Improved Payment for Time Doctors Spend with Patients
Today the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the annual Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) final rule, prioritizing CMS’ investment in primary care and chronic disease management by increasing payments to physicians and other practitioners for the additional time they spend with patients, especially those with chronic conditions. The rule allows non-physician practitioners to provide the care they were trained and licensed to give, cutting red tape so healthcare professionals can practice at the top of their license and spend more time with patients instead of on unnecessary paperwork. This final rule takes steps to further implement President Trump’s Executive Order on Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors including prioritizing the expansion of proven alternatives like telehealth.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, actions by the Trump Administration have unleashed an explosion in telehealth innovation, and we’re now moving to make many of these changes permanent,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Medicare beneficiaries will now be able to receive dozens of new services via telehealth, and we’ll keep exploring ways to deliver Americans access to healthcare in the setting that they and their doctor decide makes sense for them.”
“Telehealth has long been a priority for the Trump Administration, which is why we started paying for short virtual visits in rural areas long before the pandemic struck,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “But the pandemic accentuated just how transformative it could be, and several months in, it’s clear that the healthcare system has adapted seamlessly to a historic telehealth expansion that inaugurates a new era in healthcare delivery.”
Finalizing Telehealth Expansion and Improving Rural Health
Before the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), only 15,000 fee-for-service beneficiaries each week received a Medicare telemedicine service. Since the beginning of the PHE, CMS has added 144 telehealth services such as emergency department visits, initial inpatient and nursing facility visits, and discharge day management services, that are covered by Medicare through the end of the PHE. These services were added to allow for safe access to important health care services during the PHE. As a result, preliminary data show that between mid-March and mid-October 2020, over 24.5 million out of 63 million beneficiaries and enrollees have received a Medicare telemedicine service during the PHE.
This final rule delivers on the President’s recent Executive Order on Improving Rural Health and Telehealth Access by adding more than 60 services to the Medicare telehealth list that will continue to be covered beyond the end of the PHE, and we will continue to gather more data and evaluate whether more services should be added in the future. These additions allow beneficiaries in rural areas who are in a medical facility (like a nursing home) to continue to have access to telehealth services such as certain types of emergency department visits, therapy services, and critical care services. Medicare does not have the statutory authority to pay for telehealth to beneficiaries outside of rural areas or, with certain exceptions, allow beneficiaries to receive telehealth in their home. However, this is an important step, and as a result, Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas will have more convenient access to healthcare.
Additionally, CMS is announcing a commissioned study of its telehealth flexibilities provided during the COVID-19 PHE. The study will explore new opportunities for services where telehealth and virtual care supervision, and remote monitoring can be used to more efficiently bring care to patients and to enhance program integrity, whether they are being treated in the hospital or at home.
Payment for Office/Outpatient Evaluation and Management (E/M) and Comparable Visits
Last year, CMS finalized a historic increase in payment rates for office/outpatient face-to-face evaluation and management (E/M) visits that goes into effect in 2021. The Medicare population is increasing, with over 10,000 beneficiaries joining the program every day. Along with this growth in enrollment is increasing complexity of beneficiary healthcare needs, with more than two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries having two or more chronic conditions. Increasing the payment rate of E/M office visits recognizes this demand and ensures clinicians are paid appropriately for the time they spend on coordinating care for patients, especially those with chronic conditions. These payment increases, informed by recommendations from the American Medical Association (AMA), support clinicians who provide crucial care for patients with dementia or manage transitions between the hospital, nursing facilities, and home.
Under today’s final rule, CMS continues to prioritize this investment in primary care and chronic disease management by similarly increasing the value of many services that are similar to E/M office visits such as maternity care bundles, emergency department visits, end-stage renal disease capitated payment bundles, and physical and occupational therapy evaluation services. These adjustments ensure CMS is appropriately recognizing the kind of care where clinicians need to spend more face-to-face time with patients.
“This finalized policy marks the most significant updates to E/M codes in 30 years, reducing burden on doctors imposed by the coding system and rewarding time spent evaluating and managing their patients’ care,” Administrator Verma added. “In the past, the system has rewarded interventions and procedures over time spent with patients – time taken preventing disease and managing chronic illnesses.”
In addition to the increase in payment for E/M office visits, simplified coding and documentation changes for Medicare billing for these visits will go into effect beginning January 1, 2021. The changes modernize documentation and coding guidelines developed in the 1990s, and come after extensive stakeholder collaboration with the AMA and others. These changes will significantly reduce the burden of documentation for all clinicians, giving them greater discretion to choose the visit level based on either guidelines for medical decision-making (the process by which a clinician formulates a course of treatment based on a patient’s information, i.e., through performing a physical exam, reviewing history, conducting tests, etc.) or time dedicated with patients. These changes are expected to save clinicians 2.3 million hours per year in administrative burden so that clinicians can spend more time with their patients.
Professional Scope of Practice and Supervision
As part of the Patients Over Paperwork Initiative, the Trump Administration is cutting red tape so that healthcare professionals can practice at the top of their license and spend more time with patients instead of on unnecessary paperwork. The PFS final rule makes permanent several workforce flexibilities provided during the COVID-19 PHE that allow non-physician practitioners to provide the care they were trained and licensed to give, without imposing additional restrictions by the Medicare program.
Specifically, CMS is finalizing the following changes:
- Certain non-physician practitioners such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants can supervise the performance of diagnostic tests within their scope of practice and state law, as they maintain required statutory relationships with supervising or collaborating physicians.
- Physical and occupational therapists will be able to delegate “maintenance therapy” – the ongoing care after a therapy program is established – to a therapy assistant.
- Physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and other clinicians who directly bill Medicare can review and verify, rather than re-document, information already entered by other members of the clinical team into a patient’s medical record. As a result, practitioners have the flexibility to delegate certain types of care, reduce duplicative documentation, and supervise certain services they could not before, increasing access to care for Medicare beneficiaries.
For a fact sheet on the CY 2021 Physician Fee Schedule Final rule, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/final-policy-payment-and-quality-provisions-changes-medicare-physician-fee-schedule-calendar-year-1
For a fact sheet and frequently asked questions on the CY 2021 Quality Payment Program final rule, please visit: https://qpp-cm-prod-content.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/1207/2021%20QPP%20Final%20Rule%20Resources.zip
For a fact sheet Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/final-policies-medicare-diabetes-prevention-program-mdpp-expanded-model-calendar-year-2021-medicare
To view the CY 2021 Physician Fee Schedule and Quality Payment Program final rule, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/files/document/12120-pfs-final-rule.pdf
Coverage Policies for Artificial Hearts and Ventricular Assist Devices (VADs)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 1, 2020
Contact: CMS Media Relations CMS Media Inquiries
CMS Updates Coverage Policies for Artificial Hearts and Ventricular Assist Devices (VADs) Updated policy provides enhanced patient-centered access to Artificial Hearts and Ventricular Assist Devices for Medicare beneficiaries
Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized updates to Medicare coverage policies for artificial hearts and ventricular assist devices (VADs), both of which are used to treat patients with life-threatening advanced heart failure.
While Medicare generally does not cover experimental or investigational items and services, the program has historically allowed for coverage of certain interventions when they are provided in the context of an approved clinical study or with the collection of additional clinical data. This process can allow for earlier beneficiary access to innovative treatments and technology while additional data is collected.
Prior to today, Medicare covered artificial hearts under this “coverage with evidence development” standard. The updated coverage policy CMS is announcing today will end this requirement for artificial hearts and instead allow for the more standard coverage determination process where coverage decisions are made by local Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs). We believe this final decision is in the best interest of Medicare beneficiaries since careful patient selection is important, and the MACs are structured to take into account a beneficiary’s particular clinical circumstances to determine which patients will benefit from receiving an artificial heart. Although a small number of Medicare beneficiaries receive artificial hearts, the technology can save the lives of certain end-stage heart failure patients awaiting heart transplantation.
“CMS is dedicated to improving cardiovascular health in the Medicare population,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “As part of President Trump’s steadfast dedication to strengthening Medicare for our nation’s seniors, CMS is continually updating our policies to ensure that Medicare beneficiaries have access to the latest technology and appropriate evidence-based health care. These coverage changes will give beneficiaries and providers more options as they choose the potentially life-saving treatments most likely to produce good health outcomes.”
The final national coverage determination, which is effective today, also provides updated coverage criteria for VADs that better aligns with current medical practice and that we believe will expand coverage to a greater number of candidates who are likely to benefit from this technology. Specifically, the updated patient criteria in the NCD aligns with the inclusion criteria derived from recent large randomized controlled trials, which demonstrated improved patient outcomes.
To read the final decision, visit the CMS website at: https://www.cms.gov/medicare-coverage-database/details/nca-decision-memo.aspx?NCAId=298&type=Closed&bc=AIgAAAAACAAA&
Finalized Policies Give Medicare Beneficiaries More Choices around Surgery
Special Edition – Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Trump Administration Finalizes Policies to Give Medicare Beneficiaries More Choices around Surgery
Outpatient Prospective Payment System and Ambulatory Surgical Center final rule empowers beneficiary choices and unleashes competition to lower costs and improve innovation
On December 2, CMS finalized policy changes that will give Medicare patients and their doctors greater choices to get care at a lower cost in an outpatient setting. The Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) and Ambulatory Surgical Center (ASC) final rules will increase value for Medicare beneficiaries and reflect the agency’s efforts to transform the health care delivery system through competition and innovation. These changes implement the Trump Administration’s Executive Order on Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors, and will take effect on January 1, 2021.
“President Trump’s term in office has been marked by an unrelenting drive to level the playing field and boost competition at every turn,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Today’s rule is no different. It allows doctors and patients to make decisions about the most appropriate site of care, based on what makes the most sense for the course of treatment and the patient without micromanagement from Washington.”
In this final rule, CMS will begin eliminating the Inpatient Only (IPO) list of 1,700 procedures for which Medicare will only pay when performed in the hospital inpatient setting over a three-year transitional period, beginning with some 300 primarily musculoskeletal-related services. The IPO list will be completely phased out by CY 2024. This will make these procedures eligible to be paid by Medicare when furnished in the hospital outpatient setting when outpatient care is appropriate, as well as continuing to be payable when furnished in the hospital inpatient setting when inpatient care is appropriate, as determined by the physician. In the short term, as hospitals face surges in patients with complications from COVID-19, being able to provide treatment in outpatient settings will allow non-COVID-19 patients to get the care they need.
In addition to putting decisions on the best site of care in the hands of physicians, allowing more procedures to be done in an outpatient setting also provides for lower-cost options that benefit the patient.
For example, thromboendarterectomy (HCPCS code 35372) is a surgical procedure that removes chronic blood clots from the arteries in the lung. If this procedure is performed in an inpatient setting, a patient who has not had other health care expenses that year would have a deductible of about $1500. In contrast, the copayment for this procedure for the same patient in the outpatient setting would be about $1150. Patient safety and quality of care will be safeguarded by the doctor’s assessment of the risk of a procedure or service to the individual beneficiary and their selection of the most appropriate setting of care based on this risk. This is in addition to state and local licensure requirements, accreditation requirements, hospital conditions of participation, medical malpractice laws, and CMS quality and monitoring initiatives and programs.
Beginning January 1, 2021, we are adding eleven procedures to the ASC Covered Procedures List (CPL), including total hip arthroplasty (CPT 27130), under our standard review process. Additionally, we are revising the criteria we use to add surgical procedures to the ASC CPL, providing that certain criteria we used to add surgical procedures to the ASC CPL in the past will now be factors for physicians to consider in deciding whether a specific beneficiary should receive a covered surgical procedure in an ASC. Using our revised criteria, we are adding an additional 267 surgical procedures to the ASC CPL beginning January 1, 2021. Finally, we are adopting a notification process for surgical procedures the public believes can be added to the ASC CPL under the criteria we are retaining.
CMS is announcing that it will continue its policy of paying for 340B-acquired drugs at average sales price minus 22.5% after the July 31, 2020, decision of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upholding the current policy. This policy lowers out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries by letting them share in the discount that hospitals receive under the 340B program. Since this policy went into effect in 2018, Medicare beneficiaries have saved nearly $1 billion on drug costs, with expected Medicare beneficiary drug cost savings of over $300 million in CY 2021.
As part of the agency’s Patients Over Paperwork Initiative, which is aimed at reducing burden for health care providers, CMS is establishing a simple updated methodology to calculate the Overall Hospital Quality Star Rating (Overall Star Rating). The Overall Star Rating summarizes a variety of quality measures published on the Medicare.gov Care Compare tool (the successor to Hospital Compare) for common conditions that hospitals treat, such as heart attacks or pneumonia. Along with publicly reported data on Care Compare, the Overall Star Rating helps patients make better-informed health care decisions. Veterans Health Administration hospitals will be added to CMS’ Care Compare, which will help veterans understand hospital quality within the VA system. Overall, these changes will reduce provider burden, improve the predictability of the star ratings, and make it easier for patients to compare ratings between similar hospitals.
In response to stakeholder feedback about the current methodology used to calculate the Overall Star Rating, CMS is not finalizing its proposal to stratify readmission measures under the new methodology based on dually eligible patients, but will continue to study the issue to find the best way to convey quality of care for this vulnerable population.
Finally, in order to address the ongoing public health emergency, CMS is finalizing a new requirement for the nation’s 6,200 hospitals and critical access hospitals to report information about their inventory of therapeutics to treat COVID-19. This reporting will provide the information needed to track and accurately allocate therapeutics to the hospitals that need additional inventory to care for patients and meet surge needs.
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