HHS Report Finds 63-Fold Increase in Medicare Telehealth During Pandemic

A new report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found significant increases in the use of telehealth that helped maintain access to some health services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, produced by researchers in the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), also found that telehealth services were accessed more in urban areas than rural communities, and Black Medicare beneficiaries were less likely than White beneficiaries to utilize telehealth.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) utilized emergency waiver authorities enacted by Congress and existing regulatory authorities to implement policies expanding access to telehealth services during the pandemic. The HHS report found that the share of Medicare visits conducted through telehealth in 2020 increased 63-fold, from approximately 840,000 in 2019 to 52.7 million. Telehealth was particularly helpful in offsetting potential foregone behavioral health care in 2020, according to HHS.

CMS recently announced that for the first time outside of the COVID-19 public health emergency, Medicare will pay for mental health visits furnished by Rural Health Clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers via interactive video-based telehealth and audio-only telephone calls. CMS is also permanently eliminating geographic barriers and allowing patients in their homes to access telehealth services for diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of mental health disorders.

Additional information from HHS is available here.