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Frequently Asked Questions: Medicare Telehealth and Other Virtual Services

What services can be provided by telehealth during a waiver for the public health emergency (PHE) declared by the Secretary under the section 1135 waiver authority?

Medicare telehealth services include many services that are normally furnished in-person. CMS maintains a list of services that may be furnished via telehealth under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. This list is available on the CMS telehealth website.

Under the emergency declaration and waivers, these services may be provided to patients by physicians and certain nonphysician practitioners regardless of the patient’s location. Medicare also pays for certain other services that are commonly furnished remotely using telecommunications technology, but are not considered Medicare telehealth services. These services can always be provided to patients wherever they are located, and include physician interpretation of diagnostic tests, care management services, and virtual check-ins.

Who are the qualified providers permitted to furnish telehealth services under the PHE waiver?

The same health care providers are still permitted to furnish Medicare telehealth services under the waiver authority during the PHE, including physicians and certain nonphysician practitioners such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse midwives. Other practitioners, such as certified nurse anesthetists, licensed clinical social workers, clinical psychologists, and registered dietitians or nutrition professionals may also furnish telehealth services within their scope of practice and consistent with Medicare benefit rules that apply to all services.

Is any specialized equipment needed to furnish Medicare telehealth services?

Currently, CMS allows telehealth services to be furnished using telecommunications technology that has audio and video capabilities that are used for two-way, real-time interactive communication. For example, to the extent that many mobile computing devices have audio and video capabilities that may be used for two-way, real-time interactive communication, they qualify as acceptable technology. More information is available on the HHS emergency preparedness website.

Can practitioners provide Medicare telehealth services using their phones?

Yes, for use of certain phones. Section 1135(b)(8) of the Social Security Act allows the Secretary to authorize use of telephones that have audio and video capabilities for the furnishing of Medicare telehealth services during the COVID-19 PHE. Additionally, CMS amended its regulations to remove the potential perception of restrictions on technology that practitioners can use to provide telehealth services. The Office of Civil Rights has also issued guidance allowing covered health care providers to use popular applications that allow for video chats, including Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, or Skype, to provide telehealth without risk of penalty for noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules related to the good faith provision of telehealth during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.

How does a health care provider bill for telehealth services?

Physicians who bill for Medicare telehealth services should report the place of service (POS) code that would have been reported had the service been furnished in person—for example, if the patient visit would have otherwise occurred in the office setting, physicians should report POS 11 (office).  This will allow CMS’ systems to make appropriate payment for services furnished via Medicare telehealth which, if not for the PHE for the COVID-19 pandemic, would have been furnished in person, at the same rate they would have been paid if the services were furnished in person. During the PHE, the CPT telehealth modifier, modifier 95, should be applied to claim lines that describe services furnished via telehealth.

How much does Medicare pay for telehealth services?

Medicare pays the same amount for telehealth services as it would if the service were furnished in person.

How long will practitioners be able to bill using these new flexibilities?

Billing for the expanded Medicare telehealth services, as well as for the telephone assessment and management, telephone, evaluation and management services, and additional flexibilities for communications technology-based services (CTBS) are effective beginning March 1, 2020, and through the end of the PHE.

Can physicians and practitioners let their patients know that Medicare covers telehealth in new locations during the PHE?

Yes. Physicians should inform their patients that services are available via telehealth in new locations, including their homes, during the PHE and educate them on any applicable cost sharing.

Should on-site visits conducted via video or through a window in the clinic suite be reported as telehealth services? How could a physician or practitioner bill if this were telehealth?

Services should only be reported as telehealth services when the individual physician or practitioner furnishing the service is not at the same location as the beneficiary. If the physician or practitioner furnished the service from a place other than where the beneficiary is located (a “distant site”), they should report those services as telehealth services. If the beneficiary and the physician or practitioner furnishing the service are in the same institutional setting but are utilizing telecommunications technology to furnish the service due to exposure risks, the practitioner would not need to report this service as telehealth and should instead report whatever code described the in-person service furnished.

How are telehealth services different from virtual check-ins and e-visits? How much does Medicare pay for these services?

Medicare telehealth services are services that would normally occur in person but are instead conducted via telecommunications technology and are paid at the full in-person rate. Service such as the virtual check-in, e-visits, remote evaluation, and telephone visits are not services that would normally occur in person, and are not paid as though the service occurred in person. A virtual check-in lets professionals bill for brief (5-10 minute) communications that mitigate the need for an in-person visit. An e-visit is similar to a virtual check-in, but should be reported when a beneficiary communicates with their health care provider through an online patient portal. Telephone visits may be furnished via audio-only telephone whereas the remote evaluation describes the evaluation of a prerecorded video or image provided by the patient. Table 1 illustrates the respective payment rates to the physician or other practitioner; they vary based on the practice setting.

Table 1: Medicare 2020 payment rates for virtual check-ins and e-visits

CPT/HCPCS Code

Code Descriptor

Office-Based Payment Rate

Facility-Based Payment Rate

99421 Online digital evaluation and management service, for an established patient, for up to 7 days, cumulative time during the 7 days; 5-10 minutes $15.52 $13.35
99422 Online digital evaluation and management service, for an established patient, for up to 7 days, cumulative time during the 7 days; 11-20 minutes $31.04 $27.43
99423 Online digital evaluation and management service, for an established patient, for up to 7 days, cumulative time during the 7 days; 21 or more minutes $50.16 $43.67
G2061 Qualified non-physician healthcare professional online assessment, for an established patient, for up to seven days, cumulative time during the 7 days; 5-10 minutes $12.27 $12.27
G2062 Qualified non-physician healthcare professional online assessment service, for an established patient, for up to seven days, cumulative time during the 7 days; 11-20 minutes $21.65 $21.65
G2063 Qualified non-physician qualified healthcare professional assessment service, for an established patient, for up to seven days, cumulative time during the 7 days; 21 or more minutes $33.92 $33.56
G2012 Brief communication technology-based service, e.g. virtual check-in, by a physician or other qualified health care professional who can report evaluation and management services, provided to an established patient, not originating from a related e/m service provided within the previous 7 days nor leading to an e/m service or procedure within the next 24 hours or soonest available appointment; 5-10 minutes of medical discussion $14.80 $13.35