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Lawmakers Eye Medicare Coverage for COVID-19 Tests via Telehealth

Eric Wicklund

Lawmakers are now trying to integrate COVID-19 testing with a telehealth visit for seniors and others at risk of contracting the virus.

The Safe Testing at Residence Telehealth (START) Act of 2020, unveiled this week by US Reps. David Schweikert (R-AZ), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Mike Kelly (R-PA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), would mandate Medicare coverage for virtual care COVID-19 tests approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. The tests would be conducted at home with a telehealth consult and would either confirm or discount a diagnosis of COVID-19 or a similar respiratory infection.

“The coronavirus pandemic has brought on unprecedented challenges for all Americans, particularly our vulnerable, senior populations who are most at risk for contracting COVID-19 and have continued to stay isolated from family and friends,” Schweikert said in a press release. “One area where we have seen incredibly positive changes has been for seniors utilizing telehealth and at-home care tools, with growing appreciation for the flexibility and comfort this care can provide.”

With the pandemic curbing in-person care, health systems are using telehealth and mHealth platforms to monitor and treat patients in their own homes, both to reduce traffic in hospitals and reduced the risk of infection for patients and providers.

The proposed legislation targets seniors and other populations who run an increased risk of becoming infected by the virus and experiencing severe results. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seniors have so far accounted for 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths.

The bill specifies that Medicare will reimburse providers for either ordering “a test … to an eligible telehealth individual an amount equal to the amount that such physician or practitioner would have been paid for a diagnostic laboratory test,” or furnishing “an assistive telehealth consultation to an eligible telehealth individual an amount equal to the amount that a physician or practitioner would have been paid for such telehealth service.”

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