Does Medicare cover virtual appointments and/or telemedicine?
Yes, Medicare covers many types of virtual appointments and telehealth services under Medicare Part B. This coverage has been extended in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19, so many types of services are available virtually. You must directly ask your physician about virtual check-ins to set these up.
Medicare Part B covers E-visits—online appointments over video chat—the same as in-office visits would be covered. These are generally video chat sessions done to describe symptoms, diagnose, and prescribe medication for pickup or delivery from a pharmacy. Your Part B deductible will apply to these types of visits, and without a Medicare supplement insurance plan you will be responsible for about 20% of the overall costs associated with all virtual provider appointments or E-visits.
What types of providers can I see as part of a virtual appointment?
You use an E-visit to set up a virtual appointment with a doctor, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, psychologist, therapist, social worker, speech language pathologist, and a few more types of specialists in some cases. Because of COVID-19, the amount of health services provided via telehealth has been extended. As long as no special equipment is required, there is likely to be a virtual option for your care during the pandemic. In some cases, lab work can be sent to you to do from home.
Routine visits for things such as prescription refills are often done as E-visits and are covered the same as an in-person office visit under Medicare Part B. In the past, this comprehensive virtual coverage tended to only be offered for people who live in rural areas. This expansion of telehealth is considered temporary and it is unclear if these expanded aspects of Medicare will continue after the pandemic ends.
Is an E-visit the same as a virtual check-in?
An E-visit is a full visit with a provider done over video chat. Virtual check-ins are 5-10 minute visits designed to see if you need in-person care. Virtual check-ins can be conducted over phone or video chat in some cases, but sometimes also over email or secure text messages. If, for example, you think you may need to go into a doctor’s office, urgent care center, or hospital, but you aren’t sure if it’s serious, try a virtual check-in. You will be put in contact with a medical provider for a few minutes to discuss your situation and they will advise you.
If I am concerned about COVID-19, is a virtual check-in good option?
Yes, virtual check-ins and telehealth can be great options. Avoiding going to a health care setting such as a clinic or hospital can reduce your chances of being exposed to the virus, so virtual appointments are becoming more standard for many health providers across the country. You can ask if your doctor does virtual appointments or if he or she can refer you to someone who can in your network if you are concerned about being exposed to COVID-19 at an appointment.
If you have questions about you potentially having COVID-19, you can often get them answered over a virtual appointment or via a phone call to your provider. If they believe you should come in to be tested or for any other reason, they can let you know over the phone. Virtual check-ins can be used for COVID-19 symptoms anywhere under the expanded Medicare telehealth program.
What will I need to be ready for a telemedicine visit?
When preparing for a telemedicine visits or E-visit, you should have your Medicare or other insurance information, a list of the medications you currently take or are asking about, a list of your symptoms and when they began if applicable, medical records if you have them, and a list of any questions you have for your provider.
Having a private place with a good internet connection ready to go before you begin your appointment can help it go smoothly. Bring a pen and paper with you when you sit down if you think you might want to take notes.