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Telemedicine: Dial-a-Doctor now Covered by Medicare

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

Many had been advocating for insurance coverage for telephone consultations with physicians. The COVID-19 pandemic almost immediately expanded Medicare coverage for telehealth services. This quick adjustment was to protect older adults from unnecessary exposure to the virus. The adjustment required a relaxation of HIPAA privacy laws to allow for the use of smartphones, video conferencing, and messaging services.

The pandemic that alleviated both government and payer resistance rapidly scaled up Medicare’s ability to treat patients without them needing to travel to the doctor’s office. Televisits are especially suited for frail older people, because they don’t get worn out from travel, especially those who are dependent on public transportation for their brief 20-to-30-minute visit.

The Medicare Telemed program pays a wide range of providers, including physicians, nurse practitioners, psychologists, and social workers. This means patients can address a full range of medical issues. Coinsurance and deductibles apply, however some providers are reducing or waiving this fee for telehealth visits.

Telehealth had been limited to video telecommunication which required a computer, smart phone, or tablet with internet access, giving doctors valuable visual information they could not gather over the telephone. However, considering the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded coverage to include audio-only communication.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan offers telehealth over the phone at no cost, through June 30. Check with your plan to see its telehealth offerings.

Dr. S. George Kipa, BCBSM’s deputy chief medical officer, says chronic conditions or non-complex issues can generally be taken care of over the telephone, while more complex issues require internet video, if not an in-office visit.

Kipa says that while some people may not trust telehealth, once they try it, they tend to feel more comfortable with the process. In most cases, telehealth services yield a faster diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of symptoms.

“Telehealth visits require more concentration from the provider,” says Kipa, who’s been practicing telehealth since 2016. “Patients like that the doctor’s attention is fully focused on them, versus the distractions of office visits.”

Kipa says doctors can practice medicine efficiently using this technology because they can assess symptoms and concerns remotely, then make care recommendations. This includes prescribing medications, or even directing patients to seek an office visit or go to the emergency room.

Some telehealth platforms, Kipa explains, allow patients to upload photos of a rash, bruise or wound. Also, if the patient has in-home diagnostic equipment, such as a thermometer, blood pressure monitor, heart rate monitor, or a pulse oximeter, some platforms provide physicians with the patient’s vital signs, giving read-outs of their body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate.

To learn more about this Blue Cross program, visit, or call 313.225.9000. To reach the BCBSM COVID-19 Crisis Hotline, call 1.833.848.1764.

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