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BCBS of Tennessee will now include telehealth services — including telehealth provided by PTs — among benefits in place even after the COVID-19 health emergency ends.

An isolated change or a glimpse into the post-COVID health care environment? BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee announced that is making coverage of in-network telehealth service a permanent part of its benefit packages, including telehealth delivered by PTs. The change is the first time a major insurer has extended telehealth coverage beyond the length of the current public health emergency.

According to a press release from BCBS Tennessee, the expansion began in March, when it began covering telephone and video visits with in-network primary care providers, specialists, and behavioral health providers. That coverage was later extended to PTs, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists.

The now-permanent benefit includes member-to-provider and provider-to-provider consultations.

BCBS Tennessee is the latest development in a trend among many commercial insurers to cover telehealth services delivered by PTs. Aetna, UnitedHealthcare, and Cigna are among the payers that have adopted telehealth — but until now, all insurers limited the benefit to the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

"Providers and patients have indicated that they believe telehealth provided for therapy and many other services is not only efficient but effective — and not just during a public health crisis," said Carmen Elliott, APTA's vice president of payment and practice management. "This innovative step by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is encouraging, and hopefully other payers will see the same promise in telehealth as a permanent offering."

As for Medicare, CMS has adopted waivers that allow for telehealth by PTs and PTAs that are set to expire when the public health emergency ends (the current federal emergency declaration doesn't include a set end date). APTA urges its members to advocate that CMS make those changes permanent.

Visit APTA's Telehealth webpage for regularly updated information on payment, information on coding, and general guidance on what to consider when evaluating whether telehealth is right for you.


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