According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 0.3 percent of people enrolled in Medicare Part B used telemedicine before the COVID-19 crisis. Telehealth was available only for people who lived in rural locations, and patients had to travel to an office to connect virtually with medical practitioners. Only certain providers — doctors and nurse practitioners — could offer telemedicine, and fewer services were available.
Due to the pandemic, the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased in 2020.
- That year, more than 28 million people on Medicare used telemedicine services.
- Forty-nine percent — nearly half — of people enrolled in Medicare Advantage accessed health care online.
- Thirty-eight percent of traditional Medicare beneficiaries relied on telemedicine.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the regulations governing telemedicine also changed to allow Medicare beneficiaries more options for remote providers and services. Emergency department visits, physical therapy, occupational therapy, evaluation and management, and behavioral health services became available virtually.
Medicare’s Telehealth Services
The new federal regulations have expanded access to telehealth services. Rather than traveling to the doctor's office, Medicare beneficiaries can have appointments over the internet.
- Federal law has increased the types of providers available via telemedicine, going beyond doctors and nurse practitioners to include professionals such as speech therapists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists.
- Whereas telehealth used to be an option only for people who lived in rural locations, Medicare beneficiaries are now eligible for telemedicine appointments regardless of where they live.
Medicare currently covers many telehealth services, such as:
- Lab tests
- X-ray consultations
- Chronic condition treatments
- Post-surgery appointments
- Prescription management
- Psychotherapy and mental health treatment
- Preventative screenings
- Urgent care appointments
Cost of Services
Although the COVID-19 pandemic expanded access to telemedicine, the cost structure for remote health services has remained the same.
- Medicare’s Part B covers telehealth services.
- In 2022, beneficiaries are subject to a $233 deductible and 20 percent copay.