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CMS Proposes to Extend Telehealth Flexibilities Through 2023

Thomas Sullivan

Oct 24, 2021

CMS Proposes to Extend Telehealth Flexibilities Through 2023

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed in the 2022 Physician Fee Schedule to extend telehealth flexibilities through 2023 instead of through the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, which is expected to run through this year. Physician groups in comments on the rule called for a permanent solution beyond the dates set by CMS. Groups also submitted comments on MIPS Value Pathways (MVPs), ACO policies, and pending payment cuts. The final rule is expected around November 1, 2021.


Telehealth advocates called upon CMS to amend the proposed 2022 Physician Fee Schedule to permanently extend emergency measures on telehealth access and coverage that were enacted to deal with the pandemic. Many also called upon Congress to expand telehealth services.

“The ATA commends the Biden Administration for their actions in support of telehealth, and we appreciate CMS’ intent to ensure Medicare beneficiaries continue to have access to quality healthcare when and where they need it,” ATA CEO Ann Mond Johnson said in its letter to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. “However, as important as the Physician Fee Schedule is, we urge Congress to act before the vast majority of Medicare beneficiaries go off the ‘telehealth cliff’ at the end of the public health emergency.”

“The ATA understands that CMS is simply following Congress’ lead, though we are hopeful Congress will correct this wrong in the statute,” Johnson said. “There is no clinical evidence for an arbitrary in-person requirement before a patient can access telehealth services. However, in the proposed rule, CMS considers requiring an in-person visit, not only within the ‘six-month period prior to the first time’ the provider furnishes telehealth to the individual, as stated by law, but also within six months prior to subsequent telehealth visits. This effectively creates a new, arbitrary requirement for the patient to have an in-person mental health visit every six months should the patient plan to seek telehealth services with that provider.”

The Medical Group Management Association also commented that removing services after a “predetermined or prescriptive date” could create a major administrative burden for practices already strained financially by the pandemic.

“Member group practices report that adjusting workflows to operationalize the use of new telehealth codes requires additional resources, such as clinician and staff training and patient education,” MGMA said in comments. “Removing telehealth services from the covered code list will prove disruptive to both practices and patients alike, as patients have become accustomed to receiving these services virtually.”

MIPS Value Pathways and ACOs

The proposed rule calls for beginning use of the value pathways program in MIPS for 2023 and having it replace MIPS entirely in 2027. MVP is intended to align clinician reporting requirements, but the American Hospital Association (AHA) said it’s unclear whether the program would reduce administrative burden as expected or that it would be equitable across specialties. AHA said it “believes that unless and until CMS can address several conceptual issues with MVPs … CMS should not set a date certain for transitioning to mandatory MVP participation.” The Medical Group Management Association also had concerns, particularly about provider burden.

Group purchasing organization Premier addressed the proposed rule’s changes to reporting from accountable care organizations. It applauded the more gradual move to using electronic clinical quality measures, citing the reporting burden associated with them. Premier also asked CMS to recognize that ACO reporting is “fundamentally different from reporting by clinicians and groups.” The National Association of ACOs echoed those comments.

Pay Cuts

In comments on the proposed rule, physician groups were also worried about a looming 3.75% cut in the 2022 Medicare conversion factor, which calculates reimbursement for procedures under fee-for-service. The cuts are mandated under a budget neutrality provision in Congress and comes after a pay bump from Congress that expires in 2022.

The AMA said that it is urging CMS to work with Congress for relief on the budget neutrality issue.

“CMS should exercise the full breadth and depth of its administrative authority to avert or, at a minimum, mitigate these unconscionable payment cuts,” the group added.

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