House Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Expand Medicare Telehealth Services
July 15, 2015 12:52 PM
Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) this week introduced the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act (H.R. 2948), a bill to expand telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries. Cosponsors of the legislation include Representatives Gregg Harper (R-MS), Diane Black (R-TN), and Peter Welch (D-VT).
Even with recent technological advancements in telehealth, the availability of telehealth services under Medicare is limited under current policy. Only select practitioners are permitted to provide telehealth services, and only in certain rural and metropolitan shortage areas. Furthermore, key technologies including Remote Patient Monitory are not currently covered under telehealth services.
The bill’s sponsor and cosponsors said in a press release their goal is to put telehealth services “on the path toward parity with in-person health care visits.”
“Both patients and providers want telehealth for two simple reasons—it saves money and saves lives,” said Thompson.“Telehealth allows physicians to provide more patients with better healthcare, but while we’ve witnessed much advancement in the field of telemedicine, our policies still lag behind. By passing this commonsense, bipartisan bill we can expand telehealth services and make sure the best care and the best treatments are available to all Americans, no matter where they live.”
Representative Black expressed the importance of loosening government restrictions on telehealth for seniors. “As a nurse for more than 40 years, I strongly believe that we must unshackle the burdensome government restrictions on Medicare that limit use of telemedicine. We all know that advances in technology can help deliver more convenient, cost-effective, and efficient care. But today, Medicare rules prevent most seniors from accessing these needed, revolutionary services. Washington should never stand between seniors and the care that they need to stay well.”
The bipartisan proposal would expand telehealth over three phases. Phase one would expand telehealth services under Medicare for video conferencing and technologies known as store-and-forward which allows clinical information such as videos, data, and x-rays to be stored and then sent to another site for evaluation. This phase expands these services to all federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics and in counties within metropolitan statistical areas with populations less than 50,000. The bill will expand telehealth coverage for certified diabetes educators, speech language therapists, audiologists, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists. The use of remote-patient monitoring for diabetes, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease will also be incorporated in this phase.
Phase two would expand telehealth services under Medicare coverage for video conferencing and store-and-forward technologies in counties with populations of 50,000-100,000. Video conferencing will also extend to a beneficiary’s home for home health services and agencies, durable medical equipment, home dialysis and hospice. Speech language pathology, audiology, respiratory, occupational and physical therapies will also be covered services under this phase.
The third and final phase would expand these services to counties located in metropolitan statistical areas with populations over 100,000.
Representative Harper said these advancements will help address shortages in access to care. “My interest in telehealth began with a single conversation about physician shortages and concerns about patients’ access to quality and affordable health care,” said Harper. “In the years following that first conversation, it has become even more important that we are able to tighten the access gap, and the best alternative is to use technology to connect health professionals with underserved populations—rural and urban—through telehealth networks.”
In addition to highlighting improved access, Representative Welch said the measure would help reduce costs and improve the quality of care. “This bipartisan bill is crucial for the continued expansion of telemedicine, which will significantly improve both access to care and cost-effective delivery of services, resulting in reduced health care costs and improved patient outcomes.”