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Study: Significant Increase in Medicare Telehealth Use Amid Pandemic

A new Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report finds a significant uptick in telehealth use helped maintain some health care access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) used emergency waiver and regulatory authorities to expand access to telehealth during the public health emergency. This included waiving several statutory limitations, such as geographic restrictions, and allowing beneficiaries to receive telehealth in their home. The HHS report finds the share of Medicare visits conducted through telehealth in 2020 increased 63-fold, from approximately 840,000 in 2019 to 52.7 million last year.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont had the highest telehealth use in 2020, while Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming had the lowest telehealth use.

The report includes trends on services sought through telehealth. In particular, telehealth visits were helpful in offsetting potential foregone behavioral health care, with a third of behavioral health visits taking place via telehealth in 2020.

As directed by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, CMS announced several permanent flexible options to increase access to care. Namely, CMS is permanently eliminating geographic barriers and allowing patients in their homes to access telehealth services for diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of mental health disorders, including via audio-only communications technology.

Further, CMS released a snapshot detailing Medicare telehealth use between March 2020 and February 2021.

Contact Senior Director of Policy Erin O’Malley at eomalley@essentialhospitals.org or 202.585.0127 with questions.

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About the Author

Abigail Painchaud is a policy associate at America's Essential Hospitals.

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