Read the New GAO Report on Telehealth in Medicare

The federal agency charged with examining how taxpayer dollars are spent reports on the effects of temporary waivers issued by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to ease the use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.  For beneficiaries of Medicare – the public health insurance that allows access to care for those who are 65 years and older, and younger people with certain disabilities – use of telehealth increased from about 5 million services pre-pandemic to more than 53 million services from April to December 2020.  GAO also found that, while telehealth use increased across all provider specialties, 5 percent of providers delivered over 40 percent of services.  The difference in telehealth use between rural and urban Medicare beneficiaries was slight – 33 percent versus 39 percent respectively.  In considering whether to make these changes permanent, GAO makes three recommendations to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: 1) clarify guidance for billing audio-only telehealth to allow tracking of these visits, 2) require providers to use available place of service codes, and 3) make a comprehensive assessment of the quality of services delivered via telehealth to insure improved outcomes for patients.