The Trump administration is taking steps to give telehealth a broader role under Medicare, with an executive order that serves as a call for Congress to make doctor visits via personal technology a permanent fixture of the program.
The order President Donald Trump signed Monday applies to one segment of Medicare recipients — people living in rural communities. However, Administration officials said it’s intended as a signal to Congress that Trump is ready to back significant legislation that would permanently open up telehealth as an option for all people with Medicare, according to ABC News.
His administration is “taking action to make sure telehealth is here to stay,” Trump said. Monday’s executive order will also set in motion an experiment under which hospitals in rural communities could receive a more predictable stream of Medicare payments in exchange for delivering better performance on certain measures of quality.
The telehealth measure directs the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, as well as the FCC, to work together to build up the infrastructure to support telehealth in rural communities. It aims to permanently expand the kinds of services that can be provided via telehealth. Officials said examples include emergency room visits, nurse consultations, and speech and occupational therapy.
Medicare has greatly expanded its coverage of telehealth across the country as part of its emergency plan to confront the coronavirus pandemic. But that expansion will end in most places once the public health emergency is over.
The administration has regulatory authority to permanently expand some services in rural areas, but Congress must sign off on a broader program that would make telehealth a regular option for people living in cities and suburbs. There’s bipartisan support for that, but it’s unclear anything can happen before the November election, reported ABC News.
NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, praised the initiative. “As NTCA members know too well, the unique distance and population density characteristics of rural communities make seeking healthcare more challenging than if you live in the city, and this pandemic has accelerated the urgency around finding safe and reliable methods of high-quality care,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “NTCA is very passionate about the role that our members play in telemedicine and we look forward to working with the administration, USDA and the FCC to improve access to care.”