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CMS Eases Telepsychiatry Restrictions Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

March 20, 2020

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued new guidance that allows Medicare patients to receive mental health services from their providers through live videoconferencing tools such as FaceTime and Skype regardless of geographic location, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) announced.

“We are in an extraordinary crisis, and the administration has done the right thing,” said Saul Levin, MD, MPA, APA chief executive officer and medical director. “Now, Medicare beneficiaries who may be at risk of contracting COVID-19 can be seen in their homes via telepsychiatry and maintain their regular course of therapy without disruption. This will also minimize future infections.” 

Mental health professionals using telehealth should use the same CPT codes used for services conducted in person but with the Place of Service (POS) code 02, which indicates telemedicine care, the APA advised in a Psychiatric News Alert. While physicians are normally required to be licensed in the state a patient is in at the time telepsychiatry services are provided, many states are waiving various licensing restrictions. (An updated list of states waiving licensure requirements in response to COVID-19 is available on the Federation of State Medical Boards website.) 

The US Department of Health and Human Services is also waiving penalties for the use of videoconferencing software that fails to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Basic Skype and FaceTime can now be used for telehealth services.

In related news, the Drug Enforcement Administration has waived the requirement for an initial, in-person patient examination before a physician can prescribe a controlled substance electronically. 

All waivers are temporary and are in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The APA has additional information on its website.

—Jolynn Tumolo


CMS loosens telehealth restrictions after COVID-19 declared national emergency. Psychiatric News Alert. March 18, 2020.

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