Medicare Beneficiaries’ Telehealth Visits Increased 63-Fold in 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many Medicare recipients from going to their in-person routine medical appointments, the Medicare program responded in 2020 by offering temporary waivers to increase telehealth visits. Those waivers expanded telehealth access into patients’ homes and to urban areas while also including access for 140 additional health care services and additional types of providers.

Although the overall number of Medicare Part B in-person clinician visits declined by roughly 11% from 2019 to 2020, a recent report from the Department of Health and Human Services suggests that the telehealth flexibilities mitigated much of that decline. The report found that the number of Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) beneficiary telehealth visits jumped to roughly 52.7 million in 2020 – 63 times higher than the 2019 figure of 840,000.

The findings also provide evidence of disparities by race/ethnicity and for rural populations, however. Black and rural Medicare beneficiaries reported lower use of telehealth when compared to White and urban beneficiaries. Telehealth use was also found to be higher among states in the Northeast and West, and lower in the Midwest and South.

“Allowing Medicare providers to deliver more care virtually has been important during the pandemic, when seniors were advised to practice social distancing whenever possible,” said Alliance Executive Director Richard Fiesta. “But tele-health cannot be a replacement for in-person medical care for older Americans.”

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