The recent Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (“MedPAC” or “Commission”) report should serve as a shot across the bow to telehealth advocates seeking broader Medicare coverage of telehealth. In reading the telehealth chapter, it is clear to me that the MedPAC commissioners are not fully sold on telehealth because, among other reasons, they recommend that the Medicare program proceed cautiously before any expansion of the telehealth benefit. The report also makes certain conclusions that are sure to vex many in the telehealth community.
For those not familiar with MedPAC, it is an independent congressional agency that advises Congress on Medicare-related issues, and it is influential in lawmakers’ consideration of Medicare issues. By way of quick background, the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016 required the Commission to provide information regarding: 1) the extent to which Medicare covers telehealth; 2) the extent to which commercial insurers cover telehealth; and 3) ways in which the telehealth coverage policies of commercial insurance plans may be incorporated into the Medicare program. This required the Commission to do a broad-reaching examination of the telehealth sector beyond Medicare.
As a preliminary matter, the Commission notes that in 2016, 108,000 beneficiaries accounted for approximately 300,000 telehealth visits totaling $27 million in reimbursement under the Medicare physician fee schedule. Most of the services were basic physician office and mental health services. More interesting was the Commission’s observation that Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth tended to be under the age of 65, Medicare/Medicaid dual eligibles, and “to disproportionately have chronic mental health conditions.”