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Telehealth Reach Limited by Biannual In-Person Visit Mandate

Medicare beneficiaries would see increased access to telehealth for mental health treatment under a Biden administration proposed rule, a positive step that advocates say is limited by a law requiring occasional in-person visits.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated rates of anxiety and depression, substance use, and suicidal thoughts, according to a 2020 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The proposed rule would extend Medicare’s coverage of some telehealth services—expanded last year because of Covid-19 social distancing needs—through Dec. 31, 2023.

The proposed changes would address the strong demand for mental health care as illnesses from the delta variant of the coronavirus surge, benefiting both health providers and beneficiaries. Telehealth benefits patients who live in rural areas where local doctors are sparse and those who can’t easily get to a physician’s office. It also helps providers stay in business by expanding their available patient clientele beyond those who are able to seek treatment in person.

But patients seeking treatment still can’t go without an in-person visit every six months due to limits in the Social Security Act restricting Medicare.

The ability to access virtual mental health care under this provision depends on a beneficiary’s location, mobility, and access to broadband, said Mei Wa Kwong, program director for the Public Health Institute’s Center for Connected Policy. Kwong said she wishes the scope had broadened to include services outside of mental health and worries that the requirement for in-person visits every six months will exclude some patients.

Click below to read the full story in Bloomberg Law (subscription required).

Originally published by Bloomberg Law

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