The COVID-19 pandemic has made telehealth easier than ever. A recent executive order from President Trump is seeking to extend that beyond the health emergency.

The crux of the order is the extension of temporary changes to telemedicine delivery and payment put in place because of COVID-19. President Trump called on Alex Azar, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to extend many of these measures.

Specifically, the order is focused on rural healthcare and instructs Azar to propose a regulation to extend the additional telehealth services offered to Medicare beneficiaries and the services, reporting, staffing and supervision flexibilities offered to Medicare providers in rural areas.

HHS will also announce, within 30 days, a “new payment model” for Medicare telehealth visits “to ensure that rural healthcare providers are able to provide the necessary level and quality of care. This model should give rural providers flexibilities from existing Medicare rules, establish predictable financial payments, and encourage the movement into high-quality, value-based care,” the order reads.

The federal government has taken several steps to open up telehealth during the pandemic. The moves started in mid-March when HHS began covering telehealth visits for elderly patients on Medicare to reduce potential exposure to COVID-19 by visiting their regular doctor’s office.

Other measures included allowing healthcare providers to reduce or waive deductibles or other cost-sharing associated with telehealth and choosing not to enforce HIPAA penalties for doctors using telehealth during the pandemic. 

These changes, however, are temporary and will only remain in effect as long as an official public health emergency due to coronavirus is declared.

This executive order is seeking to make telehealth easier to pay for under Medicare and continue the expanded services for rural patients that may not have access to a doctor. However, the details are yet to come. HHS has until early September to propose a regulation to extend Medicare telehealth services and to determine a new payment model for these services.