Medicare Enrollment Could Affect Access to Telehealth

The use of telehealth or video visits with doctors has surged among older Americans since the onset of the coronavirus, but many services are available only to Medicare-eligible individuals.

One survey has found telemedicine use jumped by 340% among Medicare-eligible seniors this year.

Rick Dunlop, health plan CEO for Medicare and Retirement at UnitedHealthcare, said prior to the pandemic, less than 0.1% of United’s Medicare enrollees participated in telehealth.

“We’ve seen it has skyrocketed,” Dunlop said. “It’s been, you know, in the high 30s or low 40% of consumers who’ve engaged in telehealth. And they’ve, by and large, reported fantastic experiences with it.”

In 2019, Medicare began paying for patients’ virtual check-ins, so doctors could briefly assess a person by phone or video chat to determine if they required an in-person visit.

Last month, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to permanently expand telehealth services in Medicare beyond the pandemic.

Dunlop pointed out residents who have turned 65 this year typically have a seven-month window to enroll in Medicare.

He advised them to find plan that matches their current health and financial situation, and adds that despite the many unknowns of the COVID-19 crisis, now is the time to make health-coverage decisions for next year.

“But the pandemic itself really hasn’t and isn’t changing the timelines,” Dunlop said. “What’s very important is we’re heading up to open enrollment, which is going to start October 15th and extend through December 7th.”

He also said Kentuckians who have seen financial setbacks from the pandemic may now be eligible for coverage through Medicare or Medicaid.

“For those that have had significant changes in income, they may have and may qualify for some type of income assistance through a state Medicaid program,” Dunlop explained. “And again, that’s one that you’d want to check with the state, just to see how those qualifications are changing.”

According to federal data, more than 938,000 Kentuckians are currently enrolled in Medicare.