The Department of Health and Human and Services issued a brief on utilization trends for telehealth services for primary care delivery in fee-for-service Medicare based on claims from January – early June 2020. Note, while the report describes these services as primary care visits, the codes used in the analysis listed in Appendix B are reported by primary care providers and specialists.
- The report found Medicare FFS in-person visits for primary care fell precipitously in mid-March. It then found that in April, nearly half (43.5%) of Medicare primary care visits were provided through telehealth compared with less than one percent (0.1%) in February before the PHE.
- Telehealth adoption increased by nearly 50 percent in primary care at the peak.
- Providers in both rural and urban counties saw increases in telehealth adoption and utilization, however, providers in rural counties saw a smaller growth in telehealth visits as a proportion of all primary care visits in March and April, with a decrease again in May. By contrast, providers in urban counties saw greater telehealth use in March and April and smaller declines in May.
- CMS also found that mental health services were commonly provided using telehealth, and one-third of telehealth visits relied on the traditional telephone.
The issue brief does not speak to which policies to make permanent or extend beyond the end of the public health emergency but does note several areas where more research would be helpful to further assess the impact and trends related to increased utilization of telehealth. This report may be used by lawmakers as they push for a more permanent easing of restrictions around telehealth. It will most certainly be used by CMS as the agency continues to evaluate which policies to maintain beyond the public health emergency through regulatory action.
For more information visit the McDermottPlus Payment Innovation Resource Center or contact Sheila Madhani at firstname.lastname@example.org, Mara McDermott at email@example.com or Rachel Stauffer at firstname.lastname@example.org.