Medicare and telehealth: The impact of COVID-19 pandemic

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Study Rationale: The swift progression of the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to facilitate the increase in telehealth utilization. However, it is clear neither how telehealth was offered by providers nor how it was used by patients during this time of unusual and rapid change within the health industry. Aim: To investigates the telehealth utilization patterns of Medicare beneficiaries during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods and Materials: A cross-sectional study design was used to examine the responses of 9686 Medicare beneficiaries to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey, Fall 2020 COVID-19 Supplement. Multiple logistic regression analyses were conducted to examine the relationship between telehealth offering and beneficiaries' sociodemographic variables. Results: Over half (58%) of primary care providers provided telehealth services, while only 26%–28% of specialists did. Less than 8% of Medicare beneficiaries reported that they were unable to obtain care because of COVID-19. Conclusions: This research found that changes in Medicare policy, associated with CMS' declaration of telehealth waivers during the Public Health Emergency (PHE), likely increased the proliferation and utilization of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing important access to care for certain populations. With the impending conclusion of the PHE, policymakers must 1) ascertain which elements of the new telehealth landscape will be retained, 2) modernize the regulatory, accreditation and reimbursement framework to maintain pace with care model innovation and 3) address disparities in access to broadband connectivity with a particular focus on rural and underserved communities.



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