Telehealth services provide access to healthcare and should continue to be an option, particularly for those in rural and underserved areas.
Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) should ensure telehealth services provided during the public health emergency are maintained and made permanent.
Why telehealth services are vital
Telehealth can help expand access to care and maintain continuity of care for patients. For people with Medicare, access to telehealth services is especially important. From July to September 2020, 15.1 million people with Medicare had a telehealth visit with a doctor or other healthcare professional, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation—nearly half of beneficiaries whose providers offered telehealth services. A federal report found that older adults and individuals from underserved communities benefited the most from expanded telehealth access during the COVID public health emergency. Since 2021, Medicare beneficiaries telehealth utilization has stabilized at 15 percent demonstrating the integration of telehealth into care delivery.
COVID telehealth flexibilities should be made permanent to include expanding coverage of telehealth services, removing barriers to access such as geographic restrictions, expanding originating sites to include a patient’s home and other clinically appropriate sites, and removing unnecessary in-person visit requirements for tele-mental health services.
It is also important to allow the use of audio-only equipment for a wide range of Medicare services, to ensure that telehealth is accessible to underserved groups. Audio-only visits will ensure that those in areas with limited or no broadband won’t lose access to critically needed services. Among Medicare beneficiaries who had a telehealth visit, 56 percent reported accessing care using a telephone only. Among Medicare beneficiaries who are over 75, live in rural areas, identify as Hispanic, or have Medicare and Medicaid, a majority reported using audio-only telehealth services.