New regulation waives cost-sharing for telehealth and remote monitoring during COVID-19

On March 17, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a statement allowing physicians and other healthcare providers to waive patient cost-sharing payments for telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On March 24, they released further guidance, stating that this new policy is not limited to the services that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) determines “telehealth visits” but also includes various non-face-to-face services like “virtual check-in services, e-visits, monthly remote care management, and monthly remote patient monitoring.” 

This statement relaxes kickback penalties for healthcare providers (HCPs) who waive cost-sharing burdens for federal healthcare beneficiaries. For the duration of this public health emergency, HCPs will be allowed to relieve patients of these cost-sharing burdens. It also applies to larger hospitals and health systems who bill on behalf of HCPs.

This and other changes are meant to increase access to care and keep patients out of clinics and the ED during the COVID-19 crisis. Thus, patients and HCPs would be incentivized to meet virtually, track their progress, and only enter the clinic if absolutely necessary. 

With remote monitoring, HCPs may be able to see which patients are unstable or at risk for an ED visit or hospitalization, and they may be able to intervene before an escalation in care is required. CMS has indicated an urgent need to reduce the strain on the health system (clinicians, supplies, beds) and enable ongoing care for high-risk populations, like patients with asthma or COPD. 

The HHS will likely continue releasing guidance in the coming months in response to COVID-19. Other COVID-19 regulations that affect telehealth and more broadly, digital health, include the loosening of HIPAA regulations to waive penalties for HCPs who meet with patients on private video-chat platforms like FaceTime and Skype that are not HIPAA compliant. HCPs should note the privacy concerns that a non-HIPAA-compliant platform entails. 

The Propeller team is monitoring these regulations closely and will keep our Clinical Blog updated with new information relevant to HCPs. If you have questions about how to monitor patients with respiratory conditions remotely, send us a note at [email protected].