On March 17, the Trump administration announced that, due to the COVID-19 crisis, Medicare providers may now use phone and video conference, including FaceTime and Skype, to see patients, with no penalties. This includes blanket HIPAA waivers, as well as Medicare reimbursement for such services.

“Today we’re also announcing a dramatic expansion of our telehealth services. Medicare patients can now visit any doctor by phone or video conference at no additional cost, including with commonly used services like FaceTime and Skype,” Trump said. “In addition, states have the authority to cover telehealth services for their medical patients.”

Trump added that the administration “will not enforce applicable HIPAA penalties so that doctors can greatly expand care for their patients using telehealth.”

That same day, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued an FAQ on the topic. The FAQ includes a list of HCPCS codes that are eligible for telehealth services under the emergency declaration and waivers. The FAQ also makes clear that the waiver temporarily eliminates the requirement that the originating site must be at a physician’s office or other authorized facility and allows Medicare to pay for telehealth services when beneficiaries are in their homes or any care setting. Moreover, CMS makes clear that it will not enforce the typical “established relationship” requirement, and that the telehealth services subject to the temporary waiver are not limited to services related to patients with COVID-19.

Also on March 17, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it would exercise its enforcement discretion and will waive potential penalties for HIPAA violations against healthcare providers that serve patients through “everyday communications technologies” during the COVID-19 crisis. The waiver applies to “widely available communications apps” such as FaceTime or Skype, “when used in good faith for any telehealth treatment or diagnostic purpose, regardless of whether the telehealth service is directly related to COVID-19.” OCR’s guidance related to these waivers can be found here.