A study recently released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that the number of beneficiaries in the traditional Medicare program who used telehealth increased from 840,000 in 2019 to nearly 52.7 million in 2020. At the same time, the number of visits to doctors’ offices reimbursed under Part B decreased.

The huge increase in telehealth use is partially attributable to regulatory changes made by HHS in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. HHS made additional telehealth services eligible for Medicare reimbursement and relaxed other regulatory requirements, as discussed here and here.

The largest increase in telehealth use during the pandemic was for behavioral health services. One-third of all behavioral health visits in 2020 were via telehealth, compared to 8% of visits to primary care providers and 3% of visits to other specialists. Behavioral health providers may have benefited the most from new rules allowing audio-only visits.

Telehealth use has leveled off in 2021 but remains far above pre-pandemic levels.

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