People with Medicare can now visit doctors from home

Surge in telehealth as fears over coronavirus grow

HOUSTON – There are now more options for people who might need to see a doctor without having to leave their homes.

The Trump Administration expanded Medicare telehealth coverage. This means thousands of people who were not eligible can now get medical help without having to go to the doctor’s office.

“The Trump Administration is taking swift and bold action to give patients greater access to care through telehealth during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Administrator Seema Verma. “These changes allow seniors to communicate with their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility so that they can limit the risk of exposure and the spread of this virus. Clinicians on the frontlines will now have greater flexibility to treat our beneficiaries safely.”

What does this mean for Medicare Patients?

Before, Medicare was only allowed to pay clinicians for telehealth services such as routine visits in certain circumstances. Now, a range of healthcare providers, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, will be able to offer telehealth to Medicare beneficiaries.

For example, a Medicare beneficiary can visit with a doctor about their diabetes management or refilling a prescription using without having to travel to the doctor’s office. As a result, the doctor’s office is available to treat more people who need to be seen in-person, and it mitigates the spread of the virus.

This will help ensure Medicare beneficiaries, who are at a higher risk for COVID-19, can visit with their doctor from their home without having to go to a doctor’s office or hospital, which puts themselves or others at risk.

Mental Health Counseling is a Big Need

This change also includes mental health counseling, which is a big need right now. Psychologist Kristen Childress says these times can be particularly challenging for patients with mental health needs, especially those who may be suicidal.

With loneliness, job loss, and fear of the unknown, she worries they may end up in the hospital while leaders are trying to keep beds available for coronavirus patients.

“I need to know that those people are ok and that’s a concern for me,” said Childress.

The changes to Medicare will help prevent vulnerable patients from entering a healthcare facility when their needs can be met remotely. But Childress says big insurance companies need to follow the lead, so at-risk patients don’t lose touch with mental health providers during this crisis.

“They had record profits last year so they can do this,” said Childress. “This is what we should do in times of emergency to take care of people. We don’t want to put people in a position where they have to choose between physical and mental health. That should never be an issue.”

Judge Lina Hidalgo addressed mental health during a press conference today. She says the Harris Center for Mental Health has a hotline for anyone feeling anxious or lonely during this time. The number is 833-251-7544.