- Published: 26 May 2021 26 May 2021
As Americans quarantined themselves during the COVID pandemic, telehealth has come into its own. The public health emergency caused Congress and Medicare to implement several waivers to the rigid rules that Medicare applies, resulting in an expansion from 13,000 telehealth visits per week for traditional Medicare beneficiaries prior to the pandemic, to 1.7 million per week in April 2020. Medicaid programs in 48 states and the District of Columbia issued guidance related to expanding telehealth coverage during the pandemic. Many private insurers also took action (voluntarily or not) to expand coverage of telehealth services. A report prepared for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners found that more than two-thirds of states took action to expand access to telehealth during the public health emergency, such as requiring coverage of telehealth; establishing temporary parity between payment for telehealth and in-person services; covering audio-only services in addition to audiovisual; and expanding eligible providers. Telehealth utilization rose from a negligible portion of total outpatient visits to approximately 12% in mid-2020.