The data brief provides insight into the use of telehealth in both Medicare fee-for-service and Medicare Advantage (MA) during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic from March 2020 through February 2021.
A new report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) indicates the long-term potential of telehealth (particularly behavioral health services) to increase access to health care for Medicare beneficiaries.
OIG conducted the study to better understand the use of telehealth and how the temporary expansion of services during the COVID-19 pandemic affected where and how beneficiaries accessed their health care. The report is based on Medicare fee-for-service claims data and Medicare Advantage (MA) encounter data from March 1, 2020, to February 28, 2021 and from the prior year, March 1, 2019 to February 29, 2020.
Key findings from the report:
- More than two in five Medicare beneficiaries used telehealth during the first year of the pandemic, 88 times more than they used it in the prior year.
- Telehealth use peaked in April 2020 but remained high through 2021.
- The most common use of telehealth: Behavioral services. OIG found that Medicare beneficiaries used telehealth for 43 percent of behavioral health services and used telehealth for 13 percent of office visits.
- Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries used more behavioral services than those in MA, with services accounting for 16 percent of all telehealth services in Medicare fee-for-service, compared to nine percent in MA.
OIG said the use of telehealth demonstrates the long-term potential of telehealth to increase access to health care for beneficiaries. The findings are important for lawmakers to consider when making permanent changes to telehealth in Medicare.