RISE summarizes this week’s regulatory-related headlines.

CMS expands coverage of lung cancer screening with low dose computed tomography

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service announced a national coverage determination (NCD) that expands coverage for lung cancer screening with low dose computed tomography (LDCT) to improve health outcomes for people with lung cancer. The screening, the only one recommended for lung cancer, is aimed at early detection of non-small cell lung cancer.

Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers and the leading cause of cancer-related death in both men and women in the United States.

The decision expands eligibility for people with Medicare to get lung cancer screening with LCDT by lowering the starting age for screening with 55 to 50 years and reducing the tobacco smoking history from at least 30 packs per year to at least 20 packs per year. Click here to learn more.

HHS awards $55M to increase telehealth and digital patient tools in community health centers

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), this week awarded nearly $55 million to 29 HRSA-funded health centers to increase health care access and quality for underserved populations through virtual care, such as telehealth, remote patient monitoring, digital patient tools, and health information technology platforms. The funding builds on over $7.3 billion in American Rescue Plan funding invested in community health centers over the past year to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

“Virtual care has been a game-changer for patients, especially during the pandemic,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in an announcement. “This funding will help health centers leverage the latest technology and innovations to expand access to quality primary care for underserved communities. Today’s announcement reflects the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to advancing health equity and putting essential health care within reach for all Americans.” 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, health centers have quickly expanded their use of virtual care to maintain access to essential primary care services. Indeed, in 2020, they reported a 6,000 percent increase in the number of virtual visits from the year before. And the total number of health centers offering virtual visits grew from 592 in 2019 to 1,362 in 2022, an increase of 130 percent. These new awards will enable health centers to sustain an expanded level of virtual care and identify and implement new digital strategies. 

To see the list of award recipients, click here.

KFF report: Increase in telehealth visits suggests permanent shift in how patients receive care

Although telehealth use has declined from its all-time high during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, it still represents a much more substantial share of health care than before COVID, according to a new KFF-Epic Research analysis.

Eight percent of all outpatient visits were conducted via telehealth from March through August 2021, KFF said in an announcement about the study. This is down from 13 percent in the first six months of the pandemic, but well above pre-pandemic levels, when telehealth accounted for a negligible share of outpatient visits (rounding to 0 percent).

The analysis examines data from Cosmos, Epic’s HIPAA-defined limited data set of more than 126 million patients from hospitals and clinics across the country. Other key findings include:

  • Adults ages 65 and older relied on telehealth for a smaller share (5 percent) of outpatient visits between March and August 2021 than younger adults (8 percent) and children (11 percent).
  • Patients in rural and urban areas used telehealth at similar rates during the six-month period (10 percent and 8 percent, respectively).

The report also looks at telehealth use by chronic condition and by gender and summarizes potential implications for expanded telehealth use for access, costs, and quality of care, as well as the regulatory environment likely to affect telehealth in the future.

The report is available through the KFF-Peterson Health System Tracker, an online information hub that monitors and assesses the performance of the U.S. health system.