Medicare expands US telehealth coverage in response to COVID-19

Patients across the country can now consult with doctors from home.

In an effort to keep seniors at home during the coronavirus outbreak, Medicare is expanding coverage for telehealth nationwide. Medicare patients can now connect with doctors and other providers through phone or video. This should allow millions of older adults to seek medical advice without potentially exposing themselves or others to the virus.

Until now, telehealth coverage under traditional Medicare has been limited. It's available in rural areas, but patients needed to go to specially-designated sites for their visits. Now, patients will be able to access telehealth at home and from anywhere in the country.

Patients and clinicians will need a two-way visual and voice connection, and standard copays and deductibles will apply. Though, healthcare providers may be able to waive or reduce cost-sharing for telehealth.

The risk of serious illness from the coronavirus is much higher for older people and those with underlying health conditions, so keeping those populations at home while still providing healthcare makes sense. Now, older patients with diabetes, for instance, won't have to postpone routine visits, and if a patient is concerned they may have the coronavirus disease, they can consult with their doctor via telehealth.

This policy change is made possible by a waiver of Medicare rules authorized by Congress, as well as emergency declarations made by the Trump administration. The expanded telehealth coverage will remain in effect during the outbreak, but this could be an important step toward making remote healthcare more widely available in the future.