In light of the current global pandemic, the US government expanded Medicare coverage to include medical services furnished through telehealth beginning March 6, 2020, “on a temporary and emergency basis.”
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS.gov), Medicare will now pay for “office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country and including in patient’s places of residence.”
Medicare is the US public health insurance program for patients age 65 and over, as well as those with certain disabilities. As defined by CMS.gov, telehealth and telemedicine refer to the exchange of medical information via electronic communication to improve a patient’s health.
“We see the CMS expansion of telehealth services as a really, really, really good thing,” said Dieter Runge, co-founder and VP of Marketing & Global Business Development at interpreting software startup Boostlingo. “US healthcare workers and patients alike in the current Covid-19 epoch are really going to need it, now more than ever! There is no good reason anymore, as far as I’m concerned, not to be able to access a professional medical interpreter whenever you need one. And let’s face it, clear communication in dire healthcare situations is a lifesaver.”
While he had not, as yet, seen specific details around language access under this new expansion, Runge said, “I would love to actually see that in there. So I would like to encourage all telehealth providers, and folks on the buy-side of telehealth, not to forget about language support and to specifically push for language technology resources including, of course, remote interpreting technologies.”
“I would like to encourage all telehealth providers, and folks on the buy-side of telehealth, not to forget about language support” — Dieter Runge, co-founder, Boostlingo
Scott Klein, President and CEO of LanguageLine, concurred, calling the Medicare telehealth expansion “a big deal indeed for video and audio on-demand interpreting,” although “we need to continue to educate healthcare organizations about the need to include language access in their telehealth platforms.”
LanguageLine is a major language service provider to the US government.
Klein said Covid-19 only “accelerated a trend that we already saw developing” and that, prior to recent events, “healthcare organizations were already adopting telehealth technology at an impressive rate.”
“The Medicare expansion of telehealth is indeed a big deal for video and audio on-demand interpreting” — Scott Klein, President and CEO, LanguageLine
He added, “While most medical office buildings and primary care offices are shuttered indefinitely and travel restrictions are on the rise, care must continue for the 25 million limited-English speakers living in the United States, as well as the 10 million residents who are deaf or hard of hearing.”
Another recent nudge in the adoption of telehealth: On March 30, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission, announced a USD 200m telehealth plan for healthcare providers to “purchase telecommunications, broadband connectivity, and devices necessary for providing telehealth services.”
According to Boostlingo’s Runge, “As a remote interpreting technology company, news like this, which heralds a new focus and serious investment in improving connectivity in the healthcare sector, is music to our ears. Another quality of life win for future telehealth patients with language service needs!”
Even before the current crisis, telehealth and remote interpreting were a key focus in US healthcare. In late January 2020, AMN Healthcare purchased remote interpreting provider Stratus Video for USD 475m in one of the largest language industry deals ever.