Many questions remain after CMS call for providers, but telehealth F2F will be allowed Home health providers hoping for clarification about the role telehealth can play in treating homebound patients during the COVID-19 public health emergency did not get specific answers during a teleconference call today with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Only one question was definitively answered during the call, as CMS representatives assured providers that they will be able to rely on telehealth to meet face-to-face requirements for claims billed during the crisis. The F2F visits will be included under a blanket waiver granting leniency to providers during the public emergency to establish health services via telecommunications devices, CMS representatives said during the call. The waiver is effective for episodes of care beginning March 6 through the duration of the public health emergency. Hospice providers, however, did not receive a clear answer on whether or when Medicare will relax strict rules governing the in-person encounter between patients and physician which is now required for hospice re-certification. Unlike home health, hospice is not included under the blanket waiver allowing telehealth F2F visits, CMS said. Home health eligibility In addition, CMS did not specifically answer questions about whether it will lessen strict eligibility requirements for home health during the public health emergency, allowing more COVID-19 patients to qualify for services in their home. “This morning’s call did not provide the clear direction we were hoping for, the direction our agencies need in order to handle this serious health care crisis,“ said J’non Griffin, owner and president of Home Health Solutions, a nationwide consulting and outsourcing firm serving home health, hospice and long-term care. “Instead, we heard many ambiguous answers, that CMS is continuing to look at its flexibility in taking many of the measures we consider to be vitally important to the safe delivery of care and services to our patients.“ Both home health and hospice providers were cautioned against using telehealth as a substitute for routine in-home visits during the COVID-19 crisis, although CMS representatives said they were looking at ways to increase telehealth flexibility. “CMS did not definitively say whether agencies making decisions in order to protect the health of patients and staff would or would not be penalized for following Centers for Disease Control guidance,” J’non said. PPE equipment Other questions remain about when or whether protective personal equipment will be made available to health care workers on a larger scale, and whether home health and hospice personnel will need to adapt infection control techniques and procedures to accommodate the PPE shortages. Instead, providers were told to work with their state and local authorities to access equipment when possible. “We’re hoping these remaining questions and important issues will be addressed quickly, “ J’non said. CMS representatives said today’s call will be the first of weekly teleconference calls for providers which take place during the public health emergency, and said providers may email their questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.