HHS OIG: Certain Medicare Beneficiaries, Such as Urban and Hispanic Beneficiaries, Were More Likely Than Others To Use Telehealth During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report which

  • Expands on the telehealth utilization report released earlier this year; and
  • Examines the characteristics of beneficiaries who used telehealth during the first year of the pandemic.

The full report can be found here.

What OIG Found

Beneficiaries in urban areas were more likely than those in rural areas to use telehealth during the first year of the pandemic. Beneficiaries in Massachusetts, Delaware, and California were more likely than beneficiaries in some other States to use telehealth. Dually eligible beneficiaries (i.e., those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid), Hispanic beneficiaries, younger beneficiaries, and female beneficiaries were also more likely than others to use telehealth. In addition, beneficiaries almost always used telehealth from home or other non-health-care settings. Furthermore, almost one-fifth of beneficiaries used certain audio-only telehealth services, with the vast majority of these beneficiaries using these audio-only services exclusively. Older beneficiaries were more likely to use these audio-only services, as were dually eligible and Hispanic beneficiaries.

OIG recommends that CMS: (1) take appropriate steps to enable a successful transition from current pandemic-related flexibilities to well-considered long-term policies for the use of telehealth for beneficiaries in urban areas and from the beneficiary’s home, (2) temporarily extend the use of audio-only telehealth services and evaluate their impact, (3) require a modifier to identify all audio-only telehealth services provided in Medicare, and (4) use telehealth to advance health care equity. CMS did not explicitly indicate whether it concurred with our four recommendations.

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