AMGA urges CMS to continue to allow for telephonic visits in Medicare Advantage

A doctor crosses his arm while holding a stethescope
The American Medical Group Association has issued comments on the 2022 Medicare Advantage Advanced Notice. (Getty/fizkes)

A major physician group is urging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to continue allowing for audio-only patient visits under the COVID-19 pandemic.

In comments (PDF) on CMS' annual Advance Notice on Medicare Advantage for 2022, the American Medical Group Association (AMGA) notes that many patients are likely to still seek alternatives to in-person visits, though access to technology poses a major barrier to telehealth for seniors.

The AMGA says telephonic visits should meet the same requirements as face-to-face visits for risk adjustment and care coordination purposes, according to the letter.

"For these patients, the choice will be between an audio-only telephone call and no visit at all," the AMGA said.

RELATED: Payers have lowered barriers to telehealth. Will those changes stick? Here's what experts have to say

CMS allowed for reimbursement for telephonic visits in the spring under the pandemic, a decision cheered by physician groups as a potential revenue source with care utilization plummeting and as an option to reach more patients urged to stay home.

Groups including the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians all praised the policy, alongside one that allowed docs to bill telehealth visits at the same rate as in-person visits.

In other COVID-19-related comments, the AMGA urged CMS to reconsider rolling out a potential star ratings measure for Medicare Advantage and Part D plans in 2023 that is based on the distribution of a vaccine.

"AMGA cautions CMS against creating a measure around COVID-19 vaccination, as there are many unknowns. For example, a vaccine 3 could come to market and then subsequently be withdrawn," the group wrote. "Additionally, there is a possibility that a vaccine never comes to market. It is premature for CMS to move to implement a COVID-19 vaccination measure."

AMGA also commended CMS for amending its regulatory cycle on the Advance Notice to allow for greater time to for comments amid the pandemic.