Coronavirus Update: Health officials say video requirements for Medicare patients puts rural, elderly W.Va. population at risk

By Joe Severino, Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia health officials have been warning the federal government that if video telehealth requirements for Medicare patients aren’t waived, elderly rural patients will be at a much higher risk of exposing themselves to COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded telehealth access across the country so that elderly patients could speak with health professionals virtually and wouldn’t have to leave their home.

The CMS currently requires both video and audio communication between Medicare patients and their physician for telehealth services. But Dr. Ashish Sheth, vice president of the West Virginia Board of Medicine, said the whole goal of expanding telehealth — so elderly patients don’t have to leave their homes during a global pandemic — doesn’t work for most rural patients who can’t access video communication.

“In West Virginia, there’s a lot of places without good broadband coverage and people who don’t have smartphones,” Sheth, a primary care physician based in Cross Lanes, said. “How are they going to benefit from this? They are the ones who need it the most. If you have all these elderly people coming to the offices, or coming to the emergency rooms, we’re going to spread [COVID-19] like a wildfire.” …

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