The nonpartisan, independent Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) is urging a cautious approach to any long-term telehealth policies so that data can be gathered and analyzed.

In its report to Congress, the commission writes:

“We expect the rates for telehealth services to be lower than rates for in-person services because services delivered via telehealth likely do not require the same practice costs as services provided in a physical office.

Therefore, continuing to set rates for telehealth services equal to rates for in-office services …could distort prices and lead clinicians to favor telehealth services over comparable in-person services, even when an in-person service may be more clinically appropriate.”

The report goes on to say that policy makers should “gather more evidence about the impact of telehealth on beneficiary access to care, quality of care, and program spending to inform any permanent changes.”

This mindful recommendation for policymakers to take their time and gather more data is in conflict with the parity mandate being pushed at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Where House Bill 149 wants providers to be permanently reimbursed for texts, emails, phone calls, and “remote monitoring,” the experts are urging lawmakers to pump the breaks.

More broadly, they are saying:

  • Telehealth is less expensive to administer so it should cost less.
  • Paying the same for telehealth could incentivize providers to use the less expensive option, even if it undermines the quality of care.
  • We should analyze the data from COVID-19 before making any long-term policies.

This is a reasonable and well-thought-out recommendation.

We’d do well to listen to the experts.

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