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Health & Medicine

How COVID-19 Has Impacted American Healthcare Laws

— July 29, 2020

So what does this mean for the legal professional? If there’s one thing coronavirus has been attempting to teach us time and time again, it’s to be flexible.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in one way or another.

Some of us lost work, some of us had to quarantine ourselves for fear of infecting loved ones, some of us just had to postpone that big family cookout, but the coronavirus has impacted lives and business all over America in various ways. 

One of the ways coronavirus has changed the world around us is more subtle, but for legal professionals, it’s just as important to focus on – the changes made in American healthcare law.

As the world of medicine scrambled to find ways to curb the spread of COVID-19, they found themselves needing to become more flexible than ever in the search for treatment, as well as how the ever-present threat of COVID-19 has impacted the way practices need to handle things like billing, tracking, and even simple in-person visits.

Accordingly, healthcare law has found itself needing to stay more flexible than before to allow doctors the freedom they need to practice medicine in these strange times. One of the biggest examples of this has been seen in the expansion of telehealth practices. Telehealth, a burgeoning field of technology that allows for doctors to see patients virtually using the same communication platforms we’ve surely all been using to work from home, became a nearly overnight necessity as patients feared contracting coronavirus (or anything else) via crowded waiting rooms.

Telehealth, however, was something of a polarizing figure in regards to healthcare laws. As reported by Wachler & Associates, the bulk of telemedicine claims being covered by existing Medicare policy had to be performed in designated areas of the country (primarily rural areas) and needed to be done by specified hospitals or clinics. However, as the threat of COVID-19 rendered telemedicine and telehealth to be more vital services than ever, an act known as the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act waived certain traditional Medicare telehealth requirements, allowing for greater numbers of providers to accept telehealth claims under Medicare with no fear of penalty.

Telehealth Informed Consent and Insurance Reimbursement
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

These changes have started to affect more than just the hospitals that can offer telehealth. New waivers from the Center for Medicare Services have offered medical facilities the ability to transfer patients to outside facilities, including non-medical buildings like hotels and dormitories, while still receiving payments under Medicare. This can be a huge benefit to any hospital in a major area that needs to keep some of their more vulnerable COVID patients offsite, such as in a hospital or in a convention center, as seen in more extreme cases like Detroit.

Finally, one of the biggest changes seen in healthcare law during the coronavirus pandemic comes from the removal of certain restrictions on medication usage. Medications typically used for opioid use such as methadone and buprenorphine have been re-approved for usage and prescription in widespread cases as a response to the coronavirus, as reported by Mother Jones. This will have a ripple effect – as the medications return to common usage, laws may need to be altered to represent how often they’re used (and why), and then further oversight may be required to prevent misusage, as is the case with all medications eventually.

So what does this mean for the legal professional? If there’s one thing coronavirus has been attempting to teach us time and time again, it’s to be flexible. Things that were once considered verboten under existing HIPAA/Medicare laws are suddenly going to be not only acceptable, but necessary in many cases, as each of the clients you represent find new ways to both help their patients and keep their practice above-board during the onslaught of COVID-19. 

Flexibility and a keen awareness of the changes in law will be crucial. Whether you work as an auditor for the CMS or you represent a healthcare provider in the event of audits or other rejected Medicare claims, understanding these changes will go a long way towards being able to help your clients.

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