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Senate bill aims to expand Medicare telehealth


 

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A bipartisan bill aims to expand Medicare coverage of telehealth services and remote patient monitoring.

The Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act (S.2484), introduced Feb. 3, would increase remote patient monitoring (RPM) for certain patients with chronic conditions and bolster telehealth usage in rural and community health clinics, according to backers of the bill. The legislation would also make telehealth and RPM benefits available in the Medicare Advantage program and establish a program to help physicians meet value-based care goals under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA).

Sen. Ben Cardin

Sen. Ben Cardin

“Greater use of technology to connect patients and doctors will benefit both with better outcomes, as well as more timely and efficient use of resources,” cosponsor Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said in a statement. “We have the technology today to promote the delivery of high-quality care in an efficient and cost-effective way around the country. I’m proud to work with my colleagues on this strong bipartisan effort to expand telehealth and remote patient monitoring services.”

The bill seeks to undo current Medicare restrictions on how and where telehealth services can be used. Medicare patients currently are eligible for telehealth services only if they present from a rural health professional shortage area (HPSA) outside of a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) or in a rural census tract. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also limits reimbursable telehealth codes and restricts telehealth usage to Medicare-defined physicians.

Dr. Steven J. Stack

Dr. Steven J. Stack

If enacted, the legislation would allow telehealth and RPM to be used by qualifying participants in alternative payment models without such restrictions. The bill would also enable telehealth to be practiced at originated sites such as telestroke evaluation and management sites, Native American health service facilities, and dialysis facilities for home dialysis patients.

A 2015 analysis of the bill’s primary provisions by Avalere Health found the new policies would save the federal government $1.8 billion over a period of 10 years.

The legislation is supported by medical associations including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Neurology, the American Osteopathic Association, and the American Heart Association.

“The AMA is pleased to support legislation that would accelerate the adoption of health care delivery models that promote coordinated and patient-centered care,” said AMA President Steven J. Stack said in a statement. “This bill would ensure that patients and their physicians are able to use new technologies that remove barriers to timely quality care. Importantly, the bill would maintain high standards whether a patient is seeing a physician in an office or via telemedicine.”

Jonathan Linkous

Jonathan Linkous

Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, called the legislation a necessary move to increase quality health care options and availability and expand telemedicine in Medicare.

“We are proud to support legislation that promotes health care delivery models in the interest of both the patient and the physician,” Mr. Linkous said in a statement. “Telehealth services widen the pool of health care options while enabling physicians to treat even more patients. This bill would bring us a step closer to the best health care quality and outcomes.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee and had five cosponsors at press time. No companion bill has been introduced in the House.

agallegos@frontlinemedcom.com

On Twitter @legal_med

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