NASW Victory! CMS Approves Medicare Reimbursement for Audio-only Device Delivery of Mental Health Services by Social Workers

A strong advocacy campaign led by the National Association of Social Workers and its chapters has resulted in victory with the May 1 announcement by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that it will permit clinical social workers to receive Medicare reimbursement for psychotherapy services provided via audio-only devices such as landlines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CMS made the rule adjustment, along with other temporary waivers and changes, to increase access to healthcare and mental health services for the millions of older adults who currently cannot safely receive services in person. The agency had previously enabled greater deployment of telehealth by allowing healthcare providers such as clinical social workers to use smartphones with video chat apps to provide services in addition to pre-pandemic-approved video conferencing platforms.

“This CMS change will directly assist thousands of Medicare beneficiaries in Virginia, especially those living in rural areas or with low incomes who may not have smartphones or reliable internet access,” says NASW Virginia Executive Director Debra Riggs, CAE. “Audio-only capability for delivering mental health services adds another valuable telecommunications tool that clinical social workers can use to better serve diverse populations such as older adults and people living with disabilities.”