May 21, 2020 / 2:38 PM / 6 days ago

BREAKINGVIEWS-Telemedicine may be U.S. healthcare's new normal

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

By Robert Cyran

NEW YORK, May 21 (Reuters Breakingviews) - Online doctor visits are surging. It’s a safe and convenient alternative to going in person, insurers incentivize it, and restrictive rules are easing. While virtual visits are usually cheaper, though, increased uptake could push up total healthcare spending.

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- On April 30, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump said it was taking further measures to expand the provision of healthcare over video and telephone links. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will expand the number of healthcare practitioners that can provide telehealth services under Medicare, the government program for retired people, for the duration of the pandemic to include physical and speech therapists, among others.

- CMS will also waive the requirement for certain Medicare services to be provided over video and allow them to be done over the phone. The agency also increased reimbursement for these telephone visits to the same level as office visits. On March 30, CMS allowed Medicare providers to charge as much for a video consultation as an in-person visit.

- Teladoc Health, a provider of virtual medical services, said on April 29 that it had 2 million total visits in the first quarter, an increase of 92% from the same period last year. It lost $30 million in the quarter, a slight improvement year-on-year. Teladoc’s market capitalization has doubled since the start of the year to $12.5 billion.

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Editing by Richard Beales and Amanda Gomez

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