Skip to main content

CMS Expands Telehealth Coverage in Proposed 2022 Physician Fee Schedule

By July 15, 2021No Comments

By Eric Wicklund

– The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ proposed 2022 Physician Fee Schedule offers some good news for telehealth advocates.

The 1747-page draft, released this week, proposes to make permanent some provisions enacted years to address the coronavirus pandemic, while continuing most until at least Dec. 23, 2023 “so that there is a glide path to evaluate whether the services should be permanently added to the telehealth list following the COVID-19 PHE (Public Health Emergency).”

CMS is proposing to eliminate geographic restrictions on telemental health coverage and to make the patient’s home an originating site, as long as patient and telemental health provider meet in-person within six months of beginning telehealth services and at least once every six months after.

“We are seeking comment on whether a different interval may be necessary or appropriate for mental health services furnished through audio-only communication technology,” the agency said in a press release. “We are also seeking comment on how to address scenarios where a physician or practitioner of the same specialty/subspecialty in the same group may need to furnish a mental health service due to unavailability of the beneficiary’s regular practitioner.”

As for audio-only telehealth, CMS is proposing to amend its requirements for interactive telecommunications systems, which now focus on real-time, two-way, audio-visual telemedicine technology, to include audio-only telehealth when used for the diagnosis, evaluation or treatment of mental health issues in the patient’s home.

“CMS is proposing to limit the use of an audio-only interactive telecommunications system to mental health services furnished by practitioners who have the capability to furnish two-way, audio/video communications, but where the beneficiary is not capable of using, or does not consent to, the use of two-way, audio/video technology,” the agency said. “CMS is also proposing to require use of a new modifier for services furnished using audio-only communications, which would serve to certify that the practitioner had the capability to provide two-way, audio/video technology, but instead, used audio-only technology due to beneficiary choice or limitations.”

“CMS is also soliciting comment on: (1) whether additional documentation should be required in the patient’s medical record to support the clinical appropriateness of audio-only telehealth; (2) whether or not we should preclude audio-only telehealth for some high-level services, such as level 4 or 5 E/M visit codes or psychotherapy with crisis; and (3) any additional guardrails we should consider putting in place in order to minimize program integrity and patient safety concerns,” CMS added.

In addition, CMS plans on expanding Medicare coverage for telemental health services delivered by federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and rural health clinics (RHCs). Neither are designated by CMS as a distant site practitioner for telehealth, but the agency is proposing to allow coverage for mental healthcare services furnished by real-time telecommunication technology, including audio-only telehealth.

As far as remote patient monitoring coverage goes, CMS said it is “engaged in an ongoing review of payment for E/M visit code sets.” Changes highlighted in the CMS press release don’t factor into RPM coverage, and RPM experts are still poring over the document to ascertain whether more coverage is on the horizon.

Comments on the proposed rules are due by September 13.