October 3, 2022 at 8:00 am
By: Diana Hope, CPC, CRC, CPC-P, CGSC
Telehealth as a delivery platform has been around since the 1960s. It was first introduced through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Nebraska Psychology Institute. In 2020, the public health emergency (PHE) for COVID-19 launched this concept front and center as a mainstream healthcare delivery system.
In response to the PHE, certain flexibilities existed that made it achievable for federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) to provide telehealth services.
FQHC vs. RHC
Federally funded nonprofit health centers (FQHCs) or clinics serve medically underserved areas and populations. FQHCs can take many shapes, including but not limited to migrant health centers, healthcare for the homeless centers, and outpatient programs or facilities operated by a tribe or tribal organization.
Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) are similar to FQHCs but are located in underserved, rural areas that have been designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area. Additionally, RHCs are not required to provide services to all community members, whereas FQHCs are required to provide services for all patients within their jurisdiction.
The CARES Act
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) act, was signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27, 2020. Prior to this, FQHCs and RHCs were not approved distant sites.
Telehealth services enhanced the delivery of healthcare, reducing costs through improved quality of care for disadvantaged patients. The flexibility for FQHCs to provide telehealth through the CARES Act provided numerous benefits. Leveraging telehealth services will reduce healthcare costs by increasing patient compliance and access to healthcare. The flexibilities under the CARES Act for FQHC’s to serve as approved distant sites generated a distinctive opportunity for these community-based centers. Telehealth services will continue to address the needs of patient care and necessity.
- CLIENT ALERT: Congress Extends Certain FQHCs’ Flexibility to Furnish Medicare Telehealth Services Post-COVID: includes details about the PHE extension where FQHCs must stop applying the flexibility on the 152nd day after the end of the PHE.
- CMS Medicare Learning Network (MLN Matters) Article – New & Expanded Flexibilities for RHCs & FQHCs during the
COVID-19 PHE: includes the updated 2022 payment rate for distant site telehealth services and information on RHC payment limits.