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Internists Commend CMS Decision to Pay for Telephone Visits to Help Physician Practices during COVID-19 Emergency

Washington, DC (March 31, 2020) —The American College of Physicians (ACP) today lauded changes announced last night by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to help physician practices continue to care for patients during the COVID-19 national emergency.

Among the changes announced by CMS last night, they will begin paying physicians for patient visits that take place by audio telephone only, previously virtual visits were only paid if both audio and video feeds were used.  CMS will also allow for remote patient monitoring to monitor a patient’s oxygen level using a pulse oximeter.  Additionally, physicians and other health care professionals will be allowed to be paid in advance by Medicare for claims for services expected to be submitted later in the year, as ACP has recommended to CMS on multiple occasions. 

“We are glad that CMS heard our concerns about physician practices. The changes announced by CMS yesterday will help practices by providing them with revenue to keep their practices open as the move away from in-person visits to virtual ones,” said Robert McLean, MD, MACP, president, ACP. “The change to allow Medicare to begin paying for telephone visits is particularly important. This will benefit the many Medicare patients who only have landline or audio-only phones. It’s critical that we continue to treat those patients while keeping them home as much as possible while we’re facing the threat of COVID-19.”

The information CMS issued last night was guidance about implementing provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act that was passed by Congress last week. Over the past several weeks ACP has sent several letters to CMS outlining steps that should be taken to help sustain physician practices.  ACP also weighed in with Congress about similar measures as they considered their legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

“ACP has been calling attention to the dire circumstances facing many physician practices during this national emergency,” continued Dr. McLean. “We have been hearing from many practices, in particular smaller primary care practices, they soon may not be able to make payroll without support and could even be forced to close their doors.”

Other changes announced by CMS include,

  • In instances where direct physician supervision is required it can be provided virtually.
  • Telehealth services can now be used for both established and new patients.
  • Physicians and other health care professionals can now waive copayments for telehealth visits.
  • New flexibilities for physicians under the Quality Payment Program.

A summary of the impact the CMS rule will have on internal medicine physicians is available on the ACP website.

“While yesterday’s changes are a step in the right direction, still more needs to be done,” concluded Dr. McLean. “Now more than ever our patients need to be able to access their personal physicians. CMS and others need to do what they can to ensure physicians and their practices are able to continue to care for them.”

Contact: Jackie Blaser, (202) 261-4572, jblaser@acponline.org


About the American College of Physicians

The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization in the United States with members in more than 145 countries worldwide. ACP membership includes 159,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internal medicine physicians are specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness. Follow ACP on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.