Lindsey Copeland

Federal Policy Director

CMS Releases Temporary Policy Changes to Expanded Medicare Telehealth Services

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently took several steps to further expand the availability of Medicare telehealth services during the coronavirus emergency. Last week, the agency announced several temporary policy changes, and released an updated version of its coronavirus-related blanket waiver guidance that reflects these developments. According to CMS, the revisions are intended to “increase access to telehealth for Medicare patients so they can get care from their physicians and other clinicians while staying safely at home.” Notably, these flexibilities are in addition to those previously made by Congress and CMS, including via the CARES Act and the federal rulemaking process. Below is a summary of key changes.

Coronavirus Public Health Emergency Highlights the Need for Medicare Enrollment Protections

A new Associated Press (AP) story, “Medicare applications raise anxiety for seniors in pandemic,” highlights the challenges Medicare-eligible individuals may face when trying to enroll in the program during the coronavirus emergency. Their experiences, and those of callers to Medicare Rights’ national helpline, indicate the pandemic is exacerbating an already cumbersome process.

CMS Temporarily Eases Some Requirements for Medicare Advantage and Part D Appeals

People with Medicare who are denied coverage for a health service or item by Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage (MA), or their Part D plan may appeal—or formally request a review of—that decision.

During the coronavirus public health emergency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is allowing new flexibilities in how these appeals are managed. The temporary changes give the entities hearing or processing a beneficiary’s appeal the authority to remove barriers that might otherwise prevent a beneficiary from successfully filing or pursuing an appeal.

CMS Releases Interim Final Rule for Medicare Policy During the Coronavirus Emergency Period

On April 6, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—the agency that oversees the Medicare program—published an interim final rule (IFR) with comment period, Policy and Regulatory Revisions in Response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. The IFR reinterprets and clarifies several Medicare rules and policies for the duration of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) emergency period, often to increase access to telehealth services. The rule is retroactive to March 1, and comments on the rule are due June 1.

Cash Assistance Coming for Many Americans, but Hurdles Remain

Signed into law last week, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is the third coronavirus-related legislative package to pass Congress. Among the $2 trillion bill’s health care and economic changes is a plan to send up to $1,200 in cash assistance to millions of Americans.

Medicare Rights Outlines Recommendations for Future Action Around Coronavirus

Older adults and people with disabilities are at high risk of infection and serious illness from coronavirus. While we appreciate the efforts of policymakers to date to respond to the outbreak, more must be done to anticipate and meet the unique needs of people with Medicare. This week, Medicare Rights sent letters to Congress and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), outlining our priorities and recommendations for future action.

Congress Passes Additional Measures to Address Medicare Coverage and Costs Related to Coronavirus

This week, Congress passed legislation (H.R. 6201) that waives all Medicare beneficiary cost-sharing for coronavirus testing and the associated doctor’s office visit.

The legislation contains a number of other provisions that also advance critical health care and fiscal priorities, including enhanced federal Medicaid funding for states, support for nutrition services, unemployment aid, and paid sick leave. The package is the second coronavirus bill to pass Congress. Earlier this month, Congress provided $8.3 billion in emergency appropriations to improve public health preparedness and response.

Trump Administration Issues Important Guidance Around Telehealth and Nursing Home Waivers

Medicare generally only covers telehealth in limited situations and for certain beneficiaries. However, recent legislation allows the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to temporarily expand telehealth coverage and access, in part by waiving some of Medicare’s rules, such as originating site and geographic restrictions, during the coronavirus public health emergency. On March 17, HHS released guidance, including a fact sheet and FAQs, implementing this policy and appropriately applying it to all Medicare-approved telehealth services.