On August 3rd, President Trump signed an executive order written to make temporary telehealth changes that were enacted in response to COVID-19 more permanent, while also expanding telemedicine further for rural communities.
This order is meant to allow for new flexibility regarding what services may be provided via telehealth, who may provide them, and in what circumstances.
Internal analysis from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) saw telehealth visits jump significantly after initial temporary changes were made due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-COVID-19, roughly 14,000 virtual visits were conducted, while in the last week of April, approximately 1.7 million virtual visits were conducted.
Within 30 days of the signing of this order, the following provisions must be met:
- HHS will announce a new model to test payment mechanisms to ensure that rural healthcare providers are able to provide the necessary level and quality of care. This model should give rural providers flexibility from existing Medicare rules, establish predictable financial payments, and encourage movement into high-quality, value-based care.The HHS has since released an extensive Rural Action Plan, which contains a four-point strategy to transform rural health and human services, including:
- Building a sustainable health and human services model for rural communities
- Leveraging technology and innovation
- Focusing on preventing disease and mortality
- Increasing rural access to care
- HHS and the Department of Agriculture will work with the FCC and other executive departments to develop and implement a strategy to improve communications healthcare infrastructure available to rural Americans.The FCC, HHS, and Department of Agriculture have since released a short Memorandum of Understanding which establishes how these organizations plans to work together in their shared goal.
- HHS will submit a report on policy initiatives tied to eliminating regulatory burden that limit availability of clinical professionals, improving mental health in rural communities, and more.
The report of policy initiatives is included within the Rural Action Plan.
Within 60 days, the HHS shall review the temporary policies put in place due to the pandemic and propose regulation to extend them. This includes policies related to the additional telehealth services offered to Medicare beneficiaries and the services, reporting, staffing, and supervision of flexibilities offered to Medicare providers in rural areas.