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As concern over the spread of the new coronavirus has grown, many health care professionals are urging people to stay home as much as possible. It seems that telemedicine would be one easy way to cut down on the number of people visiting hospitals and clinics. But, the patchwork of state and federal laws regarding telemedicine left many unsure of which patients they could treat remotely - and whether insurance would cover it.
So far, 18 states and the District of Columbia have enacted emergency measures to increase options for telemedicine. Plus, federal officials have relaxed rules on telemedicine to help older Americans avoid exposure to the virus. And as governing bodies change the rules in real-time, health care attorneys may be the best people to spread the word.
Beginning March 6, Medicare started covering more telehealth services nationwide. Previously, it only covered the use of telemedicine for routine visits under certain circumstances - such as services for a patient who lives in a rural area. Under the new temporary rules, telehealth visits will be reimbursed the same way as in-person visits. Officials hope that by expanding the availability of telemedicine, those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 can avoid exposure. The American Medical Association praised the change, stating that the expansion of telemedicine is vital to national efforts to maintain social distancing.
Typically, to provide telehealth services, a physician must be licensed in the state where their patient is located at the time of treatment. However, as resources and manpower diminish, states are relaxing those licensure requirements. Washington, Florida, and several other state governments have done this, as well as put out a call for retired or inactive physicians to volunteer their services via telemedicine.
States are also making temporary changes to the way telemedicine is covered by insurance. In Massachusetts, for example, Governor Charlie Baker issued an order requiring all commercial insurers, self-insured plans, and state health plans to cover "clinically appropriate" telehealth services.
As health professionals continue to work tirelessly to slow the spread of the virus and treat those affected, these regulations will likely continue developing. Check FindLaw's COVID-19 Resources Center for continued coverage.