Therapy providers will now be able to offer their services through telehealth to Medicare patients after the federal government announced a new set of rules and waivers Thursday. The move should help facilitate therapy to nursing home residents during the pandemic, the head of a key long-term care group said. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said it is waiving limitations on the types of clinical practitioners that can provide Medicare telehealth services. The waiver now means that physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists can provide telehealth services.

The National Association for the Support of Long Term Care (NASL) welcomed the move. The organization previously called on the federal government to allow rehab therapists to provide services to our patients via telehealth technology under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

“CMS’ announcement today allows rehab therapists to utilize telehealth,” Cynthia Morton, executive VP of NASL, told McKnight’s. “We are optimistic this new ability is for all settings where therapists practice and we sure hope it’s for the setting that needs it most – and that is the patients in nursing facilities.”

Morton added that the action will help reduce the number of therapists entering nursing facilities and aid in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

CMS first announced in March that it was removing Medicare restrictions for telehealth coverage nationwide, while also temporarily relaxing HIPAA obligations for providers in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The new waivers revealed Thursday also aim to expand COVID-19 diagnostic testing for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Under the rule, Medicare will no longer require an order from the treating physician or other practitioners for patients to get a coronavirus diagnostic test. 

And the waivers now allow a hospital to provide services in other healthcare facilities and sites that aren’t part of the existing hospital, and to set up temporary expansion sites to help address patient needs.