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Dear AOA Federal Keyperson,
With the U.S. Capitol Building, U.S. House and Senate Office Buildings, and the White House now closed to the public in response to our current public health challenges, I wanted to make sure that you know that the AOA Advocacy Team has been and will continue working hard to help AOA members, your practices, employees, and patients through this uncertain time.
In this AOA Federal Keyperson Update – while we do have a range of other advocacy topics to report to you – we’re instead focusing on providing you with the latest information that we think is right now most important to you, your practices, and patients.
Below you’ll find coverage of our recent legislative win recognizing doctors of optometry as physicians for a new effort allowing a greater ability for AOA members to provide and bill for remote care to Medicare beneficiaries should your senior patients be unable or unwilling to show up in-person. AOA will go into the details of this new opportunity during a webinar Tuesday, March 17. Click here to register.
We’ve also included in this edition details of an AOA-backed provision recently signed into law making available new emergency Small Business Administration low-interest loans to small business optometry practices in communities declared disaster areas due to the impact stemming from the novel coronavirus. We also wanted to share an extensive list of COVID-19 resources from AOA and the Federal Government that you may find helpful.
While it’s likely that we’ll be working with lawmakers and staff in new and different ways in the coming days, we wanted to make sure that you know that we will continue fighting on Capitol Hill on behalf of AOA members, your practices, employees and patients as Congress looks to address the unfolding situation. At the same time, we’ll continue working to build support for other aspects of AOA’s federal advocacy agenda, including the AOA and American Dental Association-backed DOC Access Act (H.R. 3762) and the AOA and Alliance for Patient Safety-backed Contact Lens Prescription Verification Modernization Act (H.R 3975).
Thanks for all that you do for patients and the profession. We hope you find the updates below useful and timely. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with questions or if we can be helpful to you in any way.
Director, Congressional Relations
American Optometric Association
gro.aoanull@ettelliwm / 703-837-1001
Emergency Spending Law Includes Continuity of Care Provision for ODs and other Physicians
Last week Congress passed and the President signed into law emergency spending legislation to support federal and state efforts to address the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Bolstered by AOA advocacy, the package includes a key provision recognizing doctors of optometry as physicians and providing them with a greater potential for caring remotely for patients in the coming weeks should they be unable or unwilling to show-up for care in-person.
Overall, the spending package allows for expanded use of telehealth services under Medicare during the public health emergency related to the novel coronavirus. Typically, Medicare restricts telehealth services, allowing only for reimbursement of telehealth services when provided in locations outside of metropolitan statistical areas and in Health Professional Shortage areas.
During the bill negotiations last week, AOA worked to ensure that doctors of optometry were recognized as physicians and included as qualified providers under the bill. AOA also fought hard for and won needed patient safeguards from unscrupulous actors looking to take advantage of seniors by ensuring that these telehealth efforts could only billed for established patients.
As doctors work with their local public health departments and prepare for possible quarantines and other preventive measures, when necessary, more AOA member doctors will likely be able to care for patients via telehealth platforms and bill for those services.
Following AOA advocacy, Medicare right now pays for “virtual check-ins” for patients to connect with their doctors without going to the doctor’s office. These brief, virtual check-in services are for patients with an established relationship with a physician and is not related to a medical visit within the previous 7 days and does not lead to a medical visit within the next 24 hours (or soonest appointment available). The patient must verbally consent to using virtual check-ins and the consent must be documented in the medical record prior to the patient using the service. The Medicare coinsurance and deductible would apply to these services.
Doctors of optometry can bill for these virtual check-in services furnished through several communication technology modalities, such as telephone (HCPCS code G2012) or captured video or image (HCPCS code G2010).
Medicare is also paying for patients to communicate with their doctors without going to the doctor’s office using online patient portals. The individual communications, like the virtual check ins, must be initiated by the patient; however, practitioners may educate beneficiaries on the availability of this kind of service prior to patient initiation. The communications can occur over a 7-day period. The services may be billed using CPT codes 99421-99423 and HCPCS codes G2061-G206, as applicable. The Medicare coinsurance and deductible would apply to these services.
AOA members can learn more about this new advocacy win and about billing for telehealth services during the COVID-19 outbreak during an AOA webinar on Tuesday, March 17 at 9 p.m. Click here to register.
AOA-Backed Provision in Emergency Law Provides Assistance to Small Business Optometry Practices
The AOA and our partners fought for and won a new provision in the COVID-19 emergency spending package providing more than $7 billion in emergency relief funding to small business optometry practices and other small businesses impacted by the novel coronavirus.
These low interest loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.
Following enactment of the law, the Small Business Administration (SBA) will begin offering designated states and territories low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the novel coronavirus.
Upon a request received from a state’s or territory’s Governor, SBA will issue an Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration.
Any such Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance declaration issued by the SBA makes loans available to small businesses and private, non-profit organizations in designated areas of a state or territory to help alleviate economic injury caused by COVID-19.
SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance will coordinate with the state’s or territory’s Governor to submit the request for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance.
Once a declaration is made for designated areas within a state, the information on the application process for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance will be made available to all affected communities. AOA will assist in ensuring that this information is shared with AOA members.
SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.
The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75%.
SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years. Terms are determined on a case-by-case basis, based upon each borrower’s ability to repay.
For additional information, contact AOA staffer Matt Willette at gro.aoanull@ettelliwm or the SBA disaster assistance customer service center at 1-800-659-2955 or by e-mail vog.absnull@ecivresremotsucretsasid.
AOA Provides COVID-19 Guidance, Launches Resource Page
The AOA’s Health Policy Institute (HPI) continues to closely monitor developments and actively participate in U.S. public health discussions to date regarding the COVID-19 response to keep optometry informed of the latest information. Doctors of optometry need not only to understand the risks and current public health situation related to COVID-19 but also have the latest clinical recommendations and guidance for informed patient care.
Throughout this outbreak, AOA HPI representatives have joined public health forums and briefings with officials from the White House, CDC and National Institutes of Health to relay and translate information into an evolving patient care guidance for optometry. This manifests in the AOA HPI statement, “Doctors of Optometry and COVID-19.”
This guidance regularly evolves as more information becomes available and contains the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, public health guidance, U.S. situation report and infection control protocols that all optometric practices should actively employ, bearing in mind the ever-changing nature of this outbreak.
“At our practice, we see a range of patients, many in the high-risk population for COVID-19, and this is the topic that concerns most of them,” says William T. Reynolds, O.D., AOA president-elect. “We have implemented the guidelines outlined in AOA HPI’s paper and by the CDC and are having conversations with patients about proper hygiene, including handwashing. It is critical, as our patients primary eye health care physicians, that we provide sound and useful guidance and direction for patients as they navigate the misinformation and confusion this situation is creating.”
Considering the seriousness and evolving nature of this outbreak, the AOA also launched a COVID-19 resource and information page where optometry can quickly locate the CDC guidance and recommendations doctors need. This resource page includes:
The AOA recommends that doctors of optometry be aware of the COVID-19 situation in their communities and be mindful of the commonly understood characteristics of this virus, as well as patient exposure risk and how optometric practices should respond.
For additional information on global COVID-19 response, visit the WHO coronavirus webpage.