Medicare Beneficiaries Continue to Rely On Telehealth. Urgent Congressional Action Needed to Avoid Telehealth Cliff.

Mar 28, 2024

As we mark four years since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial to reflect on the lasting impacts it created, including the heightened importance of telehealth. During the pandemic, restrictions on telehealth utilization by Medicare beneficiaries were suspended through Public Health Emergency (PHE) waivers. Subsequently, in 2022, Congress passed and President Biden signed into law a two-year extension of these vital flexibilities. Even in today’s post-pandemic world, Medicare beneficiaries continue to rely heavily on telehealth services.

In fact, telehealth usage among Medicare beneficiaries remains higher than the pre-pandemic rate. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 19 percent of Medicare patients used telehealth services at the start of 2022. This is a substantial increase from the 2020 pre-pandemic rate of only seven percent. 

The advantages of telehealth extend far beyond its role during the pandemic, proving to be an invaluable resource for a diverse range of patients, particularly seniors. Telehealth allows seniors enrolled in Medicare to access the care they need without worrying about the logistical challenges of visiting their physician in person.

Telehealth also serves as a critical tool for Medicare patients who live in rural areas or who require specialized care for chronic conditions, such heart disease or diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries 65 or older have two or more chronic conditions, and more than 15 percent have six or more. Telehealth enables patients to access the specialty care they need easier, and physicians can provide more personalized care.

Not only do Medicare beneficiaries continue to utilize telehealth, but they surpass individuals who are uninsured or covered by other forms of insurance in telehealth usage. A survey conducted by the Office of Health Policy revealed that between April 2021 and August 2022, Medicaid (28.3 percent) and Medicare (26.8 percent) beneficiaries exhibited the highest rates of telehealth utilization compared to those without insurance or covered by private or alternative health insurance.

What’s more is that the satisfaction of Medicare beneficiaries with telehealth remains high even post-pandemic. According to a 2021 report from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, “91% of Medicare beneficiaries were satisfied with their video visits and 92% were satisfied with their phone visits” over the past year. 

Millions of patients nationwide, including many Medicare beneficiaries, rely on telehealth for care. This access is at risk if Congress does not make these pandemic-era telehealth flexibilities permanent without onerous restrictions.  

Learn more about how Congress can act now to safeguard access to telehealth HERE.