By Peter Johnson

Recent events indicate the telehealth boom caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will result in a permanent expansion of virtual care. On Aug. 3, the Trump administration issued an executive order directing HHS to make permanent some of the telehealth regulations it relaxed for Medicare beneficiaries during the public health emergency.

The executive order directs officials to issue proposed regulations that will lock in some of the changes in telehealth policy that the Trump administration included as part of pandemic relief. In response to the order, CMS on Aug. 3 proposed a rule that would permanently allow Medicare to reimburse for certain services that are furnished virtually, “including home visits for the evaluation and management of a patient (in the case where the law allows telehealth services in the patient’s home), and certain types of visits for patients with cognitive impairments.”

Avalere Health founder Dan Mendelson says that the order will have limited impact in the near term, but it speaks to the rapid entrenchment of telehealth.

“The administration is doing what they can with their existing authority. Notionally, it’s in the right direction,” says Mendelson. “It’s thoughtful and positive, but it’s also limited in terms of the practical effect because it’s focused on these rural geographies.”

Meanwhile, telehealth provider Teladoc Health Inc. reached a deal to acquire remote monitoring firm Livongo Health Inc. in a transaction announced Aug. 5, which the firms expect to close by the end of the year. In a July white paper prepared by members of its health care practice, KPMG predicted ample transactions in the telehealth space going forward.

James Gelfand, ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC) senior vice president for health policy, tells AIS Health via email that Congress needs to take telehealth reform further.

“ERIC urges Congress to follow the President’s lead and remove restrictions that ban employers from offering telehealth to all employees, opening up access to health care for millions of Americans nationwide permanently,” he wrote.

Mendelson makes a similar point. He says that Congress needs to set rules for complex, controversial issues like reimbursement. He adds that he expects action on telehealth after the election, if only for Medicare and Medicaid.