According to a recent announcement from the American Telemedicine Association thousands of Medicare beneficiaries in 97 counties, across 36 states and territories, are scheduled to lose telehealth benefits. Why? Because of changes to the urban/rural categorization done by the federal government. The changes to categories of Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas (SMSAs) effectively revokes the option for Medicare recipients to receive healthcare services via videoconferencing–one of the most common and cost-effective forms of telehealth. According to the release Hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries are negatively impacted by this statistical realignment.
Medicare coverage is not available for video visits to beneficiaries living in metropolitan areas-where over 80% of recipients live. Looking on the bright side, the new SMSA rules designate 28 additional counties as “non-metropolitan,” thus qualifying their residents for telemedicine services under Medicare. However the net change in people losing access to telehealth services under Medicare remains negative. The changes to SMSAs are in response to information gathered during the 2010 census.
“When it comes to telemedicine, Congress has long overlooked the need for telemedicine services to residents of urban counties, despite the fact that they often suffer similar problems accessing healthcare. Now, because of a statistical quirk, even more people will lose coverage of these services, reducing access and care,” said Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association. “Medicare should cover remote health services for all beneficiaries, regardless of location. We call on Congress to ensure that existing beneficiaries will not lose coverage for these services.”
A complete listing of counties being effected, either negatively or positively can be found in the release.