COVID-19 Public Health Emergency is Now Ending: What Does This Mean for Telehealth?

By: Sam Cohen and Anita Linton
2 Minute Read

Whether practices will be able (or willing) to continue telehealth services at pandemic levels in a post-COVID-19 world is still up in the air. While there is a growing demand for the continued availability of telehealth offerings, concerns regarding new provider licensure requirements and payment parity will significantly affect the decision to continue or abandon providing these services following the pandemic. As your practice grapples with this decision, leaders will need to keep a close eye on upcoming legislation to ensure services comply with changing requirements and decide if your business model can sustain potential changes to reimbursement rates.

Patient Demand

After polling more than 2,000 Americans, a recent survey from Sykes revealed that less than 20% of respondents had used telehealth prior to March 2020, increasing to over 61% just one year later. As for the demand for the continuance of telehealth services, more than 88% of those respondents report that they would like to continue non-urgent consultations via teleconference with their physician.

Unfortunately, potential legislative moves may make the continued use of telehealth services difficult for providers as state-wide emergency waivers lift. Depending on the practice’s state, physicians and other medical providers will need to achieve a certain set of requirements to continue providing telehealth services, and many may even require additional licensure applications.

Furthermore, changes in payment parity may become a significant obstacle as billing requirements change or revert to pre-COVID-19 models. While telehealth visits were reimbursed at the same payment rate as in-person visits during the pandemic, new legislation (or the ending of temporary executive orders and regulatory waivers) may result in lower reimbursement, making it difficult or even impossible for many practices to continue offering these services.

Physician response

According to an MGMA Stat poll conducted in February regarding telehealth usage in 2021, providers appear to be evenly split in their expectations, with 31% expecting increased usage, 35% expecting decreased usage, and 34% expecting no change. Those who planned to increase usage cited patient demand and convenience. However, those expecting a decrease in usage cited coverage and reimbursement concerns that may make it more difficult for their practices to continue telehealth services.

What Lies Ahead

At the federal level, the benefits of virtual care have caught the attention of congressional lawmakers, and we are seeing bipartisan efforts underway to permanently repeal some of the statutory restrictions that served as roadblocks to telehealth usage pre-COVID-19. Currently, there is no new information regarding upcoming laws, yet there may be new federal legislation to take effect later this year.

At the state level, it’s critical that practices turn to their state’s medical boards to stay abreast of new developments. Many organizations, including medical societies, practice administrator organizations, and licensing bodies may also serve as important resources for critical information. In addition, practices can learn more about telehealth policy changes by following the Center for Connected Health Policy. At Curi, we advise that all practices use these resources to closely monitor any announcements.

Please continue to check Curi’s News and Knowledge blog for updates on new legislation, and reach out to our Vice President of Health Policy, Sam Cohen at 919-878-6102 or one of our risk management experts at 800-662-7917 if you have any questions.

Sam Cohen and Anita Linton
Anita Linton is a Senior Risk Manager based in Curi’s Raleigh, NC office; Sam Cohen is Curi’s Senior Vice President of Health Policy. Curi members may contact him directly at sam.cohen@curi.com and 919.878.7602. Readers also can follow him on Twitter @samuel_c_cohen.
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