Telehealth Medicine Bills Introduced in Congress
June 14, 2017 02:47 PM
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced two pieces of legislation late last month to expand access to telehealth services under Medicare.
The Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2017(H.R. 2550) and the CONNECT for Health Act of 2017 (H.R. 2556), sponsored by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA-5), Diane Black (R-TN-6), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Gregg Harper (R-MS-3), would make telemedicine more widely available than ever before to Medicare beneficiaries.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has traditionally not encouraged telemedicine, though the restrictions have been eased slightly in the past few years. The law still limits telehealth reimbursement with limitations on geography and covered codes, as well as restrictions on the remote providers who can be reimbursed by Medicare, as well as originating site strictures.
H.R. 2550 would phase in the expansion of telehealth services by:
Removing the geographic barriers under current law and allow for the provision of telehealth services in rural, underserved, and metropolitan areas
Expanding the list of providers and related covered service that are eligible to provide telehealth services to include respiratory therapist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech language pathologist, and audiologist
Expanding access to telestroke services, regardless of where the patient is located;
Allowing remote patient monitoring (RPM) for patients with chronic conditions such as heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and diabetes; and
Allowing the beneficiary’s home to serve as a site of care for home dialysis, hospice care, eligible outpatient mental health services, and home health services.
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 restriction on the use of telehealth in Accountable Care Organizations, and Medicare Advantage
Urge the Secretary of Health and Human Services to evaluate the applicability of telehealth in projects before the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI)
Authorize a study on the use of telehealth services once restrictions have been lifted.
Thompson, Harper, Black, and Welch also announced the formation of the Congressional Telehealth Caucus, a bipartisan group that will discuss how best to improve remote care to Americans who need it most.
“Telehealth saves lives and reduces costs; it’s a win-win for both patients and providers,” said Rep. Thompson. “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.”
“With an aging population that is placing an unprecedented demand on the health care delivery systems, there is a growing need for finding alternative solutions to deliver quality and affordable health care to underserved and rural areas, like my home state of Mississippi,” said Rep. Harper. “This quality, bipartisan legislation will help reshape the way we think about access to health care in Mississippi and throughout our country and will contribute to the twenty-first century innovations that will bring down costs and tighten the access gap for those who need it most. I am honored to continue to work with Reps. Mike Thompson, Diane Black, and Peter Welch on these important issues.”
“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 Rep. 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.”
“All Americans need access to quality, affordable health care no matter where they live. Federal policy must keep pace with advancements in telemedicine technology,” Rep. Welch said. “Our caucus will strongly advocate for the expansion of cost effective and convenient telehealth services that ensure access to quality health care in rural America.”