Posted on February 9, 2022 by Austin Lang
Posted on February 9, 2022 by Austin Lang
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are turning to telehealth and telemedicine services, allowing them to access quality medical care from the comfort of their own homes. Medicare Part B coverage of telehealth has been extended throughout 2022, and many Medicare Advantage plans now include expanded telehealth services as a benefit. Read on to learn more about telehealth, its benefits, and the ways Medicare and Medicare Advantage can help you cover it.
Telehealth refers to any healthcare service delivered remotely via audio and/or video technology. Usually, these remote visits are performed through a dedicated app or website, but Coronavirus-related provisions have made it legal to perform such services through apps like Zoom or FaceTime. The term ‘telehealth’ covers a broad range of healthcare services, including, but not limited to:
Telehealth has seen a massive expansion in its range of services in recent years, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Medicare has expanded the list of services available to beneficiaries through telehealth, including speech therapy, eye exams, and patient observation. However, these expanded services will only be covered by Original Medicare until 2023.
You may have heard the term telemedicine used interchangeably with telehealth, but please note that the two are not one-in-the-same. Telemedicine refers to any remote clinical service, such as a virtual check-in. It does not include expanded services like patient portals or monitoring devices.
Telehealth has many benefits over traditional healthcare services, especially for seniors and people who are less mobile. People with conditions that render them unable to drive or use public transportation can quickly reach a doctor, saving time and reducing travel costs. It’s also cheaper overall: Medicare telehealth usually has a lower overhead price than traditional doctor’s offices, and having access to a doctor or nurse at any time can reduce unnecessary hospital visits. The use of monitoring devices can also help doctors identify potential issues before they become serious problems, improving your overall healthcare experience.
That said, telehealth isn’t without its drawbacks. While it’s impossible to perform services that require special equipment (such as X-Rays) remotely, you’ll still need to travel to a medical facility with the appropriate equipment in most cases. Also, monitoring devices and photographs are no substitute for a doctor’s eyes. Particular issues that may be caught during an in-person appointment might be overlooked during a telehealth session, requiring patients to be hyper-vigilant for any symptoms they may be experiencing.
Telehealth also requires access to a stable internet connection and the use of an internet-connected device, such as a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Patients unable to access these tools may be able to find a telehealth hub at your local clinic or community center.
Under normal circumstances, Medicare telehealth is only available for limited services, like a stroke diagnosis. Medicare Part B also covers telehealth for people living in designated rural areas, though you may need to travel to a local healthcare facility to access them.
However, these are far from normal circumstances. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth coverage under Medicare Part B has been expanded to allow patients to access healthcare services from any location, regardless of where they live.
Because the pandemic is so unpredictable, no one knows how long Medicare Part B will continue to cover expanded telehealth services. Many expanded provisions are slated to end in December 2023, while others have no listed end date. Healthcare advocates are pushing to permanently make these expanded services available, but there are currently no guarantees.
However, many Medicare Advantage plans have begun to offer telehealth services at low or no cost to their beneficiaries. While the reduced fees are partly due to government subsidies, certain providers may continue to provide telehealth coverage long after the pandemic. It’s a good idea to review your Medicare Advantage coverage yearly so you can ensure your plan continues to meet your needs.
Telehealth services are just one of the many perks offered through Medicare Advantage plans, including vision, dental, and hearing services. Our licensed insurance agents can help you research and compare plans that offer the coverage you need.
Austin is dedicated to breaking down complex topics, like Medicare, in a way that's easy to understand. He graduated with an M.A. from Florida Atlantic University in 2018.