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Caucus pushes for telemedicine expansion in Congress

Accreditation Insider, May 23, 2017

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When it comes to healthcare and congress, finding bipartisan support on anything is a daunting task. That said, politicians from both sides are coming together in support of new bills aimed at improving and expanding telemedicine services in the United States.

 The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are considering both the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2017 and the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act (MTPA). The two bills are aimed at lowering CMS restrictions on telemedicine coverage and test the efficacy of telehealth services in Medicare healthcare delivery reform models. The Senate Finance Committee is also considering a bill called the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017, which includes a section that would allow greater use of telehealth.

Both CONNECT and MTPA had failed to advance during previous sessions of Congress, and were re-launched by members of the newly formed bipartisan Congressional Telehealth Caucus on May 19. The four founding members of that caucus are Representatives Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Gregg Harper (R-Mass.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.)

“Telehealth saves lives and reduces costs; it’s a win-win for both patients and providers,” said Thompson in a press release. “We’ve all seen how technology has made us more connected in our daily lives. These same advances allow physicians to provide more patients with better healthcare—especially patients in rural, difficult-to-access, and underserved communities. Unfortunately, regulations haven’t kept pace with the times. These commonsense, bipartisan policies will allow us to make sure every American gets the best care and the best treatment—no matter where they live. The Caucus will give us a venue to collaborate with our interested colleagues to advance the delivery of care via telemedicine.”

“My many years as a nurse, especially my time spent working in long-term care, taught me that if Medicare is to provide real benefit to seniors while ensuring real efficiency for taxpayers, it must embrace the advances in technology and innovation that are already taking place across the health care sector,” said Black. “That is what telehealth is all about—promoting cost savings and quality care through the use of technology like remote patient monitoring services. Harnessing the power of telemedicine is a win for seniors, a win for providers, a win for taxpayers, and a win for rural Tennessee.”

If passed, the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act would:

•    Allow for the provision of telehealth services in rural, underserved, and metropolitan areas, rather than just rural areas
•    Expand the types of providers who can be reimbursed for telehealth services to include several kinds of allied health professionals
•    Expand access to telestroke services
•    Allow remote patient monitoring for patients with chronic conditions
•    Allow a Medicare beneficiary's home to serve as a site of care for remote dialysis, hospice care, outpatient mental health services, and home health services

If passed, the CONNECT for Health Act of 2017 would:

•    Expand originating sites for telehealth care
•    Create a Medicare remote patient monitoring benefit for certain high-risk, high-cost patients;
•    Lift restrictions on the use of telehealth in ACOs and Medicare Advantage plans;
•    Urge the Secretary of Health and Human Services to have CMMI evaluate the applicability of telehealth in demonstration projects;
•    Authorize a study on the use of telehealth services after restrictions on coverage have been lifted.
•    Save Medicare around $1.8 billion over the course of 10 years 

It’s important to remember that even if these bills become law, providers will still have to be licensed in whatever state their patient is physically located.

 For example, if you’re in New York and one of your patients is on vacation in California, you have to be licensed by the California medical board to treat him via telemedicine. And you still have to meet the standard of care required under California law. That won’t change under these proposed laws.

 



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