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TUESDAY, Aug. 4, 2020 -- President Donald Trump signed an order on Monday that will broaden the role of telehealth for Medicare patients, the Associated Press reported.
Although the executive order is limited to rural patients, the administration is sending a signal to Congress pass legislation to permanently use telehealth as an option for all Medicare recipients, the wire service reported.
The administration is "taking action to make sure telehealth is here to stay," Trump said.
The executive order also sets up an experiment whereby hospitals in rural areas can receive predictable Medicare payments in exchange for better performance on some measures of quality, the AP reported.
The order directs the departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and the Federal Communications Commission to work to build an infrastructure that supports telehealth in rural areas.
Services telehealth can handle include emergency room visits, nurse consultations and speech and occupational therapy.
Medicare has already expanded its coverage for telehealth due to the coronavirus pandemic. But that will end in most areas when the emergency ends.
The administration has authority to expand some services in rural areas, but Congress must pass a broader program, according to the AP.
Telehealth has been popular among Medicare patients because it's a way to keep older patients safe and avoid catching the virus by going out for doctor appointments.
In the last week of April, nearly 2 million Medicare patients used telehealth. Only thousands had used the program before the pandemic, the AP noted.
"In an earlier age, doctors commonly made house calls," Seema Verma, the Medicare Administrator, said in a statement. "Given how effectively and efficiently the health care system has adapted to the advent of telehealth, it's become increasingly clear that it is poised to resurrect that tradition in modern form."
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