Medicare Telehealth Policy Needs Immediate Change

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that our older Americans practice safe distancing, wash their hands and avoid touching their face, nose and eyes.

So far, we have been listening to and following CDC's orders.  We now realize COVID-19 is very dangerous, especially for our seniors 65 and over.  To date, seventeen states have issued stay at home orders and our seniors have been playing by the rules.

However, Medicare's existing telehealth policy is misguided at best and prevents our older Americans from communicating with their doctor.  Sadly, this bizarre policy unnecessarily places seniors in peril.  Not only does it not cover telephone-only physician visits, but it forces this vulnerable population to travel during the riskiest times in our nations history.  As of March 25th, 2020, the CDC reports 54,453 COVID-19 cases and 737 deaths.  Statistics show seniors and those with serious health issues may be at a higher risk of more serious complications from COVID-19

Even though Medicare recently amended its telemedicine policy to expand some telehealth for Medicare, it falls far short during this critical and unprecedented health emergency. Quite frankly, it makes no sense for the federal government to ask our older Americans to stay home, while at the same time, Medicare says no telephone-only visits.

As we know, our seniors are getting more technologically savvy, but they have a long way to go.  In the future, our older Americans will become familiar with FaceTime and Skype that Medicare currently requires, but in the midst of the most dreadful health crisis in our nation's history, our seniors need to have access to their physician via telephone. Think about those living in rural areas across the United States who are lacking in broadband internet access.  Are we just going to kick them to the curb?  Should we tell seniors living in those areas that they will be hit harder and are out of luck with Medicare's existing policy?  I promise, we can do better for our older adults than what has been offered!

Thankfully, Blue Cross Blue Shield has seen the wisdom in fully covering telephone-only interactions as a full telehealth visit during this pandemic.  Additionally, state Medicaid Agencies have joined together allowing patients to connect with physicians without putting the health and safety of our seniors at risk.

During these uncertain times we are living in, let's urge CMS to include telephone-only visits as telehealth for Medicare patients immediately, just like Blue Cross Blue Shield and the state Medicaid Agencies have already done. We owe it to our older Americans who have earned their Medicare.  We urge you to call your member of Congress and tell them lives are at stake and CMS needs to fix this problem immediately.   






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