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Telehealth to become permanent under Trump executive order

"The virus is receding," the president said of COVID-19 during a news conference on Monday.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

President Donald Trump today signed an executive order to make permanent the temporary flexibilities for telehealth allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Today I'm taking action to ensure telehealth is here to stay," Trump said during a news conference. "I signed an executive order to make many of our regulatory reforms permanent."

Medicare will cover telehealth visits at no additional cost, he said, and copayments can be waived for telehealth services.

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The order will allow Medicare to cover more than 135 services through telehealth, including physical therapy, emergency department visits, home visits, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, pediatrics, critical care and more, Trump said.

An estimated $2 billion of additional funding will support the ability for Medicare patients to receive telehealth, he said.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Hospitals, physicians, insurers and others have been wanting the federal government to take action to make telehealth permanent.

Providers have invested in the technical infrastructure and personnel to allow for its use.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma has said the federal government needed to act before CMS could issue new policies regarding the use of telehealth beyond the public health emergency.

The order especially targets telehealth for rural communities and hospitals, which may lack the funds needed for the infrastructure.

The order requires the Department of Health and Human Services to announce a new payment-model-testing innovations that empower rural hospitals to transform healthcare in their communities on a broader scale, the White House said.

The Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Communications Commission are forming a task force to break down barriers to expand rural healthcare, Trump said.

THE LARGER TREND

Telehealth use has skyrocketed during the pandemic.

In April, over 43% of all Medicare primary care visits were done by telehealth compared to less than .1% in February.

An estimated 10.1 million Medicare beneficiaries have accessed telehealth, including 3.6 million seniors.

Of COVID-19, the president said, "The virus is receding."

Nationwide, positive cases declined by nearly 6% from the week before, Trump claimed.

In hotspots in the South and West, case counts have dropped, he said: Arizona by 37%, Texas by 18.7% and Florida by 21.2%.

States where the number of cases are rising include Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Missouri. 

Another 18 states have positive test numbers below 5%.

COVID-19 cases showed decreases nationally from week 29 to week 30, which ended July 25, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of laboratory tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 remained stable from week 29 to week 30, but increased in six of 10 HHS regions. Weekly hospitalization rates and mortality attributed to COVID-19 also declined during week 30, the CDC said, with mortality attributed to COVID-19 remaining above the epidemic threshold.

On Sunday, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said the virus is "extraordinarily widespread," in rural areas, according to CBS News. Trump accused Birx of capitulating to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's criticism that Birx was "enabling" disinformation about the coronavirus.

The president, who has been criticized for not wearing a mask, urged Americans on Monday to wash their hands, socially distance and to wear a mask when they cannot avoid crowded places.

However, a lockdown is not viable, he said.

"Lockdowns do not prevent infection in the future," he said.

The elderly need to be protected, he said, since the average age of those dying from the virus is 78.

The pandemic and its effect on the economy have become a political issue heading into the November presidential election.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com