CMS: Telehealth services should be expanded to cover annual wellness visits, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis

Startups and established companies in the telehealth space will be excited to hear that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid has proposed expanding telehealth benefits for Medicare recipients, according to an update of the physician fee schedule for 2015 published online the eve of the holiday weekend. The proposal would add annual wellness visits, psychoanalysis, […]

Startups and established companies in the telehealth space will be excited to hear that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid has proposed expanding telehealth benefits for Medicare recipients, according to an update of the physician fee schedule for 2015 published online the eve of the holiday weekend. The proposal would add annual wellness visits, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and prolonged evaluation and management services to telehealth sevices reimbursed by CMS.

Telehealth, as CMS defines it, includes communication through multimedia equipment “that includes at a minimum, audio and video equipment permitting two-way, real-time interactive communication between the patient and distant site physician or practitioner.” It doesn’t include email, telephone or faxes.

The move to add these psychological services follows several requests for more psychiatric codes to be added to the list of telehealth services covered by CMS.

Several health IT companies offering telepsychology have launched in the past few years such as TalkSession. Companies such as 1DocWay have focused on patients in rural areas. Although some have responded to the gap in psychological services in rural areas, others sell themselves as less intimidating and a more convenient, comfortable alternative than in-person appointments.

Although CMS added a few psychiatric services, there were several applications it declined to cover for the time being. Among them were psychiatric tests such as psycho-diagnostic evaluation of intellectual abilities, personality and psychopathology done on a computer or face-to-face. It also declined to cover telehealth when it’s used to interpret or explain the results of psychiatric, other medical examinations and procedures, or other accumulated data to family or advising them how to assist a patient.

The proposal added that it would consider adding urgent dermatology and wound care services to the telehealth list when it receives the appropriate codes that physicians currently use to cover the equivalent for in-person visits.