ACP Applauds CMS Payment for Audio Phone Visits During Pandemic

April 1, 2020
Grace Halsey
Grace Halsey

Telehealth patient visits that use telephone audio only now will be reimbursed by CMS, a move lauded by the American College of Physicians. 

On Monday, March 30, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it would begin to pay for visits between physicians and patients that take place by audio telephone only. Previously, virtual patient visits would be reimbursed only if physicians used both audio and video feeds via traditional telehealth.

The news was commended by the American College of Physicians (ACP) in a press release. 

Additionally, physicians and other health care professionals will be allowed to be paid in advance by Medicare for claims for services expected to be submitted later in the year, a recommendation the ACP notes in its statement it had made to CMS several times in the recent past.

“We are glad that CMS heard our concerns about physician practices. The changes announced by CMS yesterday will help practices by providing them with revenue to keep their practices open as the move away from in-person visits to virtual ones,” said Robert McLean, MD, MACP, president, ACP, in the ACP release. 

“The change to allow Medicare to begin paying for telephone visits is particularly important. This will benefit the many Medicare patients who only have landline or audio-only phones. It’s critical that we continue to treat those patients while keeping them home as much as possible while we’re facing the threat of COVID-19.”

According to the AAFP, the change in policy will allow physicians to bill for care provided only by telephone with the following codes:

  • 99441: 5-10-minute telephone evaluation and management service by a physician or other qualified health care professional

  • 99442  11-20-minute telephone evaluation and management service by a physician or other qualified health care professional

  • 99443  21-30-minute telephone evaluation and management service by a physician or other qualified health care professional

Previously, physicians could bill for telemedicine visits for codes 99212-99215, but these all require audio and video capabilities.

“ACP has been calling attention to the dire circumstances facing many physician practices during this national emergency,” continued Dr McLean. “We have been hearing from many practices, in particular smaller primary care practices, they soon may not be able to make payroll without support and could even be forced toclose their doors.”

Other changes announced by CMS include:

  • In instances where direct physician supervision is required it can be provided virtually.

  • Telehealth services can now be used for both established and new patients.

  • Physicians and other health care professionals can now waive copayments for telehealth visits.

  • New flexibilities for physicians under the Quality Payment Program.

A summary of the impact the CMS rule will have on internal medicine physicians is available on the ACP website.

“While yesterday’s changes are a step in the right direction, still more needs to be done,” concluded Dr. McLean, quoted in the ACP press release. “Now more than ever our patients need to be able to access their personal physicians. CMS and others need to do what they can to ensure physicians and their practices are able to continue to care for them.”
 

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