Medicare may soon pay physicians for evaluating patient illness and ailments via text and other digital means, the Trump administration announced Thursday.
In an effort to reduce paperwork and “increase the amount of time that doctors and other clinicians spend with their patients,” the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services proposed new rules to improve quality and lower costs by allowing doctors to be paid when communicating with patients via more modern technologies.
“CMS is committed to modernizing the Medicare program by leveraging technologies, such as audio/video applications or patient-facing health portals, that will help beneficiaries access high-quality services in a convenient manner,” CMS administrator Seema Verma said.
As part of the newly proposed 2019 physician fee schedule, the Trump administration is proposing to advance “virtual care” as many other commercial insurers have already done, allowing doctors to bill for texts and telehealth consultations. Commercial insurers Aetna, Anthem, UnitedHealth Group and Blue Cross plans are already working with telehealth companies including Teladoc, American Well and MDLive so reimbursement for treatment via digital health has taken off in the private health insurance sector.
By allowing doctors to bill Medicare for a text, it could cut down on an unnecessary and more expensive trip to a hospital emergency room or help a patient save time and money by making an unnecessary trip to the doctor’s office for something that can be treated or evaluated remotely. In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Verma cited the use of Skype as one example where a physician could be paid for evaluating and consulting with a patient.
The following provisions are proposed in the 2019 physician fee schedule that would allow Medicare to:
Before the proposal can be implemented, it is open for public comment. But Verma believes it will go over well among physicians and their patients. “Physicians tell us they continue to struggle with excessive regulatory requirements and unnecessary paperwork that steal time from patient care,” Verma said.
Public comments on the proposed rules are due by September 10, CMS said.