Trump signs executive order to expand telehealth, boost rural health care

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday to support healthcare in rural areas by permanently expanding some telehealth services beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) officials said they plan to issue a proposed Physician Fee Schedule rule that will cement some regulatory flexibilities enacted during the public health emergency to reimburse for telehealth visits. Examples include emergency room visits, nurse consultations, and speech and occupational therapy, they said.

CMS' annual Physician Fee Schedule and Quality Payment Program updates Medicare payment rates.

These telehealth expansions would build on the work CMS has done during the public health emergency to more than double allowable telehealth services, greatly expanding access to high quality care, officials said.

RELATED: CMS: Upcoming Medicare payment rule to include permanent telehealth expansions

There has been a surge in the number of Medicare patients getting telemedicine services. Before the public health emergency, approximately 13,000 beneficiaries in fee-for-service Medicare received telemedicine in a week. In the last week of April, nearly 1.7 million beneficiaries received telehealth services, CMS reported.

"Today I’m taking action to ensure telehealth is here to stay," President Trump said during a press conference Monday evening. "I signed executive order to make some of our regulatory reforms permanent

During the pandemic, CMS has enabled Medicare to cover more than 135 services through telehealth.

A more sweeping extension of pandemic telehealth policies, including enabling patients to get telehealth visits at home, would require Congressional action, CMS officials said.

To support rural health care, Trump also signed an executive order Monday to direct the Department of Health and Human Services to set up a new voluntary pilot payment model through CMS' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI).

That payment model would provide hospitals in rural communities a more consistent stream of Medicare payments based on delivering high-quality care, Trump said during a press conference Tuesday evening.

"Revenue for rural providers varies significantly month to month, making it difficult to stay in business. Many are having a difficult time," Trump said.

The order also directs the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services and the Federal Communications Commission to form a task force to focus on improving broadband infrastructure in rural communities to support telehealth.

During a briefing on Monday night, Trump also said he would release a new healthcare plan before the end of the month.