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Aug. 7, 2020, 4:00 p.m. EDT

After COVID-19, what is the future of health care for older Americans?

They are at the heart of this pandemic, and it brings geriatric medicine to the forefront

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By Bart Astor


This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org .

Once the coronavirus pandemic fades — whenever that happens — two health trends for America’s older adults seem nearly unquestionable. Medical appointments through telehealth will be common, especially for those on Medicare. And the need for geriatricians will be great.

Since people over 65 have accounted for roughly 80% of the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the older adult population has been at the heart of the pandemic.

Here’s what experts forecast regarding telehealth and physicians specializing in geriatrics post-pandemic:


In 2019, only 11% of U.S. consumers used telehealth — medical appointments via video or telephone — according to McKinsey &  Company Health Care Systems and Services. But in recent months, McKinsey says, 46% have.

Partly, the growth in telehealth has come because so many Americans haven’t been allowed into their doctors’ offices. Partly, doctors have come to embrace these types of appointments. But a key factor has been Medicare rule changes covering telehealth for people 65 and older in important ways.

Related : Where will America’s oldest people live after COVID-19?

During the pandemic, Medicare beneficiaries can receive telehealth in any location, including their homes. Before that, they had to either live in a rural area or go to a clinic, hospital or certain other types of medical facilities.

See: 5 things you probably didn’t know about Medicare

And throughout the coronavirus outbreak, Medicare can pay physicians the same rate as for in-person visits.

Pre-COVID-19, telehealth through Medicare also required interactive audio and video between the practitioner and the patient; now, audio alone is allowed.

Medicare has recently more than doubled the number of services beneficiaries can receive through telehealth — adding 135, including physical, occupational and speech therapy services.

The result of all this? Before the pandemic, about 13,000 people in fee-for-service Medicare received telehealth in a week. These days, roughly 1.7 million do. Over 9 million Medicare beneficiaries have received a telehealth service during the pandemic.

Private Medicare Advantage plans can now offer the latest telehealth technology as part of their basic benefit, too. Now, more than half of those plans do, for up to 13.7 million enrollees.

Said Seema Verma, administrator for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in a July 15, 2020  Health Affairs blog about Medicare’s telehealth expansion: “It’s hard to imagine merely reverting to the way things were before.”

Rep. Kevin Brady, the lead Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, is currently drafting legislation to make permanent Medicare’s telehealth changes created in the pandemic.

Penny Shaffer, South Florida market president of Florida Blue, the state’s oldest and largest health insurer, says the increase in telehealth for older adults has been the biggest health care impact of COVID-19 for them.

“There’s a lot to say for the convenience of interacting with a provider from the comfort of your home: it’s safer in many ways, given no travel or transport is required, and there’s no interaction with other patients in waiting rooms,” she notes.

But, as Judith Graham of Kaiser Health News recently wrote, not all Americans have access to technology or can afford tech devices. Some have health issues (like dementia, hearing loss and impaired vision) preventing them from using telehealth. And some need translation services.

Read: How to get the most out of a telehealth appointment: 9 tips

Mario Schlosser, CEO of the tech-focused health insurer Oscar, noted that the total number of health visits by his policyholders during the pandemic has dropped in half.

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