Senate Panel Convenes Hearing on Improving Telehealth
NAHC Commends Senators for Raising Importance of Expanding Medicare Reimbursements for Home Care Telehealth Services
April 23, 2015 12:17 PM
The U.S. Senate CommerceSubcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internetheld a hearing Tuesday on improving and expanding telehealth across the nation. During the hearing, titled “Advancing Telehealth Through Connectivity,” several senators emphasized the importance of expanding Medicare reimbursements for telehealth services delivered to patients in their homes. Home care and hospice telehealth services are among those currently excluded from qualifying for Medicare reimbursements.
Subcommittee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) convened the hearing to examine progress towards expanding telehealth and connectivity challenges facing providers and patients.
Subcommittee Ranking Member Brian Schatz (D-HI) emphasized the importance of more extensive Medicare reimbursements for telehealth services. “Health policy is driven by what is and what is not reimbursed. Medicare has to lead the way,” Schatz said. Instead, he said, Medicare is “lagging behind not just the private sector” but behind other federal agencies, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Schatz criticized the exclusion of many telehealth services from qualifying for Medicare reimbursements, including telehealth services provided to patients in their homes. “Medicare will not reimburse for telehealth services if patients are located at home. If a bedbound and disabled 83 year-old woman had a sinus infection in New York, she and her caregivers could not utilize telehealth services from their home. They would need to expend significant time, effort, and travel expenses to get to their nearest physician if they could indeed get an urgent appointment.”
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said, with an increasingly large number of Baby Boomers approaching retirement, delivering telehealth services to patients in their homes will make the system more cost-effective. “We want them to stay in their homes,” she said. “We want to get as much health care delivered that way [in the home] and information, so all of that is reducing costs in the long run. So I think we’re going to have to look at the reimbursement model on this.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) referenced her efforts with Senator Thune on the Fostering Independence Through Technology (FITT) Act, which would create pilot programs to provide incentives for home health agencies to use remote patient monitoring technology to better monitor Medicare beneficiaries, improve health outcomes, and reduce Medicare expenditures. She alsoasked witness Todd Rytting, Chief Technology Officer of Panasonic Corporation of North America,to provide an update on a Panasonic study on the efficacy of remote patient monitoring technology. Rytting stated that the technology reduced hospital readmissions and emergency room visits.
In addition to the Senators, several witnesses similarly raised the importance of expanding Medicare reimbursements for telehealth services delivered to patients at home. You can access the full list of witnesses and their testimony here.
The National Association for Home Care & Hospice today commended the Senators for raising important issues related to improving home care and hospice telehealth services.
“Telehomecare services are an important part of our delivery of home care, vital to managing chronic illness and reducing hospitalizations,” said Richard Brennan, Vice President for Government Affairs and Technology Policy at NAHC and the Executive Director of NAHC’s affiliate, the Home Care Technology Association of America. “I want to thank the Senators and witnesses today for raising important issues related to improving telehealth services, including expanding Medicare reimbursements to include home care and hospice services.”
In its 2015 Legislative Blueprint for Action, NAHC recommends Congress: 1) establish telehomecare services as distinct benefits within the scope of Medicare and federal Medicaid coverage guided by the concepts embodied in the FITT Act, including all present forms of telehealth services; 2) allow for sufficient flexibility to include emerging technologies; 3) clarify that telehomecare qualifies as a covered service under the Medicare home health services and hospice benefits and provide appropriate reimbursement for technology costs; 4) eliminate the list of authorized originating sites for telehealth services by physicians so that the home residence would be a covered telehealth site; 5) ensure that all health care providers, including HHAs and hospices, have access to appropriate bandwidth so that they can take full advantage of advances in technology appropriate for care of homebound patients; and 5) include telehealth equipment and service delivery as allowable costs in home health and hospice.
NAHC will continue to provide updates regarding issues related to telehealth and advocate the progress toward the reimbursement of telehealth services in Medicare.