On March 17, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) temporarily expanded access to telehealth services covered by Medicare so that more people can receive services from their doctors and other healthcare providers without having to travel to a healthcare facility. These changes will allow people with primary immunodeficiency (PI) on Medicare to access needed healthcare without having to unnecessarily expose themselves to infections and will last for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. Under this new policy, Medicare will now pay for office, hospital and other visits furnished by doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other providers via telehealth, regardless of the location of the patient.
In addition, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued a policy allowing providers to reduce or waive a beneficiary’s cost-sharing obligations (i.e., coinsurance and deductibles) for telehealth services during the Public Health Emergency without penalty. That will allow more patient access to these services without worrying about the additional costs. Finally, for all patients, the government will be relaxing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rules for telehealth services to allow providers to use everyday technology, such as Apple FaceTime or Skype, to conduct telehealth visits during the pandemic. Providers are encouraged to notify patients that such applications are not secure and to enable as many security measures as are available from the product.
We encourage people in the PI community to review their insurance options for telehealth services. Many private insurers, in response to these new directives and to support their customers through the COVID-19 crisis, are expanding coverage for telehealth services. The more support those with PI have with receiving health services without leaving the home, the better it is for everyone.