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Medicare physician fee schedule updated to include virtual services

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Recognizing that healthcare does not always happen in a provider’s office, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has included payment for a number of virtual services in its Final Policy, Payment, and Quality Provisions Changes to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule for Calendar Year 2019.

The revised fee schedule provides payment for certain types of telemedicine provided to Medicare patients. New codes enable independent physicians to be paid for “two newly defined physicians’ services … using communication technology:

  • Brief communication technology-based service, e.g. virtual check-in (HCPCS code G2012) and
  • Remote evaluation of recorded video and/or images submitted by an established patient (HCPCS code G2010)”

Previously, the physician was not able to bill Medicare for services provided outside the office visit. However, patients often call or communicate electronically to clarify instructions or to ask questions regarding a diagnosis or plan of care. Responding to the patients requires the physician’s time and attention, both to research and prepare the response as well as the actual response time. As of January 1, 2019, those physicians can be reimbursed for that time.

CMS has acknowledged that these virtual services have the potential to “increase efficiency for practitioners and convenience for beneficiaries.” Patients and providers can also take advantage of technology-based communication to determine whether an office visit is even necessary. Prior to calendar year (CY) 2019, the physician would not have been reimbursed for teleservices designed to help a Medicare patient avoid an unnecessary trip to the provider’s office.

In addition, in CY 2019, CMS “finalized payment for Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) for communication technology-based services and remote evaluation services that are furnished by an RHC or FQHC practitioner when there is no associated billable visit.” RHCs and FQHCs can bill for teleservices using “a newly created RHC/FQHC Virtual Communication Service HCPCS code, G0071.”

Providers responding to a recent survey conducted by Reaction Data indicated that the new billing codes for virtual services would accelerate their plans to take advantage of technology such as telemedicine in providing quality, value-based care for their patients.