CMS relaxes more rules around telehealth, allowing care across state lines

By Mike Miliard for HealthcareIT News

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has temporarily suspended several regulations to enable hospitals, clinics and other providers to boost their front-line medical staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

The CMS changes reduce certification requirements for clinicians, with the aim of expanding workforce flexibilities and enabling practitioners to be hired quickly and “perform work to the fullest extent of their licenses.”

Potentially one of the most significant changes: CMS is now allowing doctors to care for patients at rural hospitals across state lines, “via phone, radio, or online communication, without having to be physically present.”

That’s a further expansion of the wide latitude already given already given to telehealth funding, reimbursement and regulation by federal agencies.

Those and other changes are aimed at critical-access hospitals, rural health clinics, federally qualified health centers, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies and hospice care.

Enabling remotely located physicians to coordinate with nurse practitioners at rural facilities will offer a more robust healthcare workforce during the pandemic, said CMS officials.

The agency is also now allowing NPs to perform some medical exams on Medicare patients at skilled nursing facilities, and occupational therapists to perform initial assessments on certain homebound patients. Additionally, hospice nurses will be relieved of hospice aide in-service training tasks so they can spend more time with patients.

“It’s all hands on deck during this crisis,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a statement. “All frontline medical professionals need to be able to work at the highest level they were trained for. CMS is making sure there are no regulatory obstacles to increasing the medical workforce to handle the patient surge during the COVID pandemic.”

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