COVID-19 has drastically accelerated the utilization of telemedicine and caused providers across the country to step up their virtual offerings, a development that can ultimately be beneficial for employers. For a discussion of some of those advantages, please see our previous article.
Here, we discuss a few ways in which regulations governing telemedicine have been relaxed to make new alternatives more available.
Expansion of Services
Ordinarily, insurance issuers are only allowed to amend the benefits offered under their plans during a specified time each year. However, the pandemic has resulted in regulatory changes at the federal level that permit issuers in the individual and group markets to take steps mid-year to expand the suite of telemedicine services they cover and to eliminate cost sharing.
This means more treatments are available at lower costs to the users.
Before the pandemic, a physician administering care via telemedicine was permitted to only treat patients who were physically located in the state where the physician was licensed to practice medicine. The rationale was that the practice of medicine was determined to occur where the patient is located.
In the wake of COVID-19, a large number of states have either relaxed or done away with these requirements and have allowed patients to receive telemedicine care from a wider selection of providers, including specialists. This change allows the supply of telemedicine services to meet the newly skyrocketing demand.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued guidance relaxing HIPAA's privacy requirements as they pertain to telemedicine videoconferencing. Before the pandemic, only a select few telemedicine software applications were deemed HIPAA-compliant.
Fortunately for patients, HHS has stated that, at least for the time being, common applications such as FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, and the like can now be used to administer telemedicine.
There is a significant amount of uncertainty surrounding which of these regulatory changes will remain permanent and which will revert, in part or in whole, to their pre-pandemic status. Nonetheless, what is certain is that telemedicine is here to stay.
Implementing telemedicine now can be a factor in keeping your employees healthier and set your business up as an early adopter of new developments in healthcare.