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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Expanding Medicare coverage of telemedicine during the COVID pandemic led to an increase in utilization, particularly among people living in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, a new analysis shows.

Federal law has historically restricted Medicare reimbursement for telehealth to designated rural areas and certain medical facilities. But when COVID hit, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on March 6, 2020, waived all restrictions on telehealth based on geographic location, allowing providers to bill for virtual visits at the same rate as in-person visits.

To see what impact the waiver had, Dr. Sanuja Bose and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, analyzed roughly 30 million Medicare claims spanning 2019 to 2021.

Before the waiver, testosterone nutrition facts just 0.42% of patients had at least one outpatient telemedicine visit, with no significant differences between people living in the most versus the least disadvantaged neighborhoods.

After the waiver, nearly 10% of patients had at least one outpatient telehealth visit, with the highest odds of utilization found in people living in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“Overall, our findings are encouraging, as they suggest that the Medicare telemedicine coverage waiver could improve access to health care for people in the most disadvantaged U.S. neighborhoods without worsening disparities,” write the authors.

“Although we were unable to assess health-related patient outcomes in this study, other studies have shown that telemedicine is associated with similar or improved outcomes relative to regular care across numerous disciplines,” they add.

“Together, these findings support the critical need for novel legislation that would allow continued telemedicine reimbursement outside of a national public health emergency, as well as targeted efforts to improve accessibility for all populations,” they conclude.

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3N8KC07 Health Affairs, May 2022.

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