Managing your own health during a pandemic can be stressful as the risk of illness seems ever-present. Thankfully, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has taken steps to make receiving healthcare as safe as possible for Medicare patients. If you are at all concerned about or vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, these policy changes are for you.
In order to reduce the risk of the virus spreading, access to Medicare telehealth services has been expanded so that all services are now available to anyone with Medicare coverage.
Although these changes are only temporary, the benefits are apparent: all Americans, particularly those most susceptible to the coronavirus, can now access healthcare without having to travel to local facilities, lowering the risk for patients across the country.
There are three types of telehealth services on offer — Medicare telehealth visits, virtual check-ins, and e-visits — and these are available throughout the country without any geographical restrictions.
Medicare Telehealth Visits
These visits, also called virtual visits, are a replacement for in-office visits, where you can talk to your personal doctor in real time via an interactive telecommunications system.
Depending on the state you live in, you can potentially access a host of medical professionals, including:
- nurse practitioners
- physician assistants
- nurse midwives
- clinical psychologists
- registered dietitians
- nutrition professionals
In order to be eligible, you need to have an established relationship with a particular practitioner. Medicare coinsurance and deductible would generally apply, although this depends on whether the healthcare provider has taken the opportunity to reduce or waive cost-sharing.
In the event you don’t have a practitioner who is offering telehealth visits, you can always opt for virtual visit platforms. These will match you with a doctor based on a series of questions both you and the doctor answer. You can then communicate with them whenever you need to.
Virtual check-ins can be done via telephone, video, email, patient portal, or even secure text messaging. These check-ins are available at your request, although your practitioner should have informed you about its availability. In order to get access to check-ins, you will have to give your practitioner verbal consent.
These are check-ins rather than online doctor visits so they will only last for 5-10 minutes. They should not relate to a previous online visit that took place within the previous 7 days, nor should they lead to an emergency service or procedure in the subsequent 24 hours or soonest available appointment.
E-visits take place through online patient portals and the consultation can take place over a 7-day period. The bill will reflect the length of the consultation, with the range from 5-10 minutes, 11-20 minutes, and 21 or more. Again, you will need to give verbal consent.
As with virtual check-ins, you will need to contact your personal doctor and request an e-visit, although information about what your practice offers should be available upon request. Medical coinsurance and deductibles apply.
Services Now Available
These changes came into effect March 6, 2020 and are now available across the United States. If you or a family member needs to consult your doctor, you can contact them today for virtual care. If your primary care physician does not offer telehealth services, however, you can use virtual care services for any of your non-emergency medical needs.