Open Accessibility Menu

COVID-19 Telemedicine Rules: Ensure Compliance to Protect Your Practice

COVID-19 Telemedicine Rules: Ensure Compliance to Protect Your Practice
Hendershot Cowart, P.C.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a sweeping impact on individuals, businesses, and industries throughout the world, but few sectors have felt as pressing a strain on resources as health care.

As first responders and other providers helm the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, medical professionals across all fields are paying close attention to regulatory shake-ups that affect how they practice and care for their patients. Chief among them: revised rules for telemedicine.

At Hendershot Cowart, P.C., our health and medical law team is closely tracking the latest developments concerning COVID-19, revised regulations, and their impact on health care providers. If you have questions about telemedicine, billing guidelines, and legal / regulatory compliance, call (713) 909-7323 or contact us onlineto speak with an attorney.

Regulators Loosen Telehealth Rules to Curb Coronavirus

In a series of unprecedented emergency response efforts, the U.S. government and various federal agencies have turned to telehealth services to reduce the strain on health care systems and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act and the White House’s emergency declaration, a number of regulatory flexibilities and policy changes are now in effect.

  • CMS broadened access to Medicare telehealth services under the 1135 waiver authority and CPRSAA on a temporary and emergency basis. Expanded Medicare coverage for telemedicine enables beneficiaries, many of whom are at higher risk for COVID-19, to receive a wider range of services without having to visit providers and facilities in person, including evaluation and management visits, mental health counseling, and preventive screenings.
  • The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) increased flexibility for providers to reduce or waive Medicare’s cost-sharing requirements for telehealth visits paid by federal health care programs.
  • The HHS Office for Civil Rights suspended HIPAA restrictions, and will not penalize physicians for non-compliance when they serve patients in good faith via common communication technologies such as Skype or FaceTime.

According to a CMS Fact Sheet, there are three important takeaways regarding the new COVID-19 telehealth policies:

  1. For the duration of the national emergency, Medicare will pay for telehealth services provided to beneficiaries in all parts of the country and in all settings at the same rate as regular, in-person visits.
  2. HHS will not conduct audits to track whether a prior patient-physician relationship existed for claims submitted during the national emergency;
  3. Patients must initiate telehealth services, but providers can inform patients that telemedicine / virtual medicine services are available.

State Medical Boards Alter Telemedicine & Licensing Policies for COVID-19

In addition to policy changes at the federal level, many states have lifted restrictions requiring health care providers to be licensed in the state where a patient is located at the time of treatment, as well as regulations related to retired or clinically inactive physicians.

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) COVID-19 webpage details the latest regulatory updates and resources regarding state emergency declarations and licensing waivers.

In Texas, for example:

Governor Greg Abbot directed the Texas Medical Board (TMB) and Texas Board of Nursing (TBN) to fast-track temporary licensing of out-of-state physicians, PA’s, certain retired physicians, nurses, and other licensed providers.

The TMB will automatically extend license and permit expiration dates. Permits for licensees which expire on 2/28/2020 or 5/31/2020 will be extended through 8/31/2020, and late fees will be waived. Continuing Education requirements related to renewal extension will also be waived.

In addition to waiving certain licensing requirements, states like Texas are also promoting the expansion of telehealth services. Per the TMB press release and TMB COVID-19 FAQ:

Texas Occupation Code 111.005 (a)-(b) and Title 22, Chapter 174.6 (a)(2)-(3) of the Texas Administrative Code are temporarily suspended until terminated by the Office of the Governor, or until the disaster declaration is lifted.

Expanded telehealth services, including the use of telephone only, may be used to establish a physician-patient relationship and for diagnosis, treatment, ordering of tests, and prescribing for all conditions. The standard of care must be met in all instances.

Contracted or preferred physicians and other providers will be eligible for payment from insurance plans regulated by the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) for telehealth services at the same rate they would receive for in-person visits.

HC: Counsel for Health Care Providers

Amid many ongoing developments in the coordinated response to COVID-19, health care providers who are now eligible to provide telehealth services face an onerous task of ensuring adherence to complex regulatory and coverage requirements prior to submitting claims for reimbursement.

At Hendershot Cowart, P.C., our health and medical law team is actively counseling health care providers across Texas and the U.S. in a range of matters arising from the coronavirus outbreak. That includes eligibility evaluations, Medicare matters, and complex telemedicine rules and guidelines for coding, billing for services, reimbursement, technology, and regulatory compliance. Contact us to speak with an attorney.