House Lawmakers Urged To Expand Access to Telehealth

May 2, 2014 in News

Testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on Thursday, telehealth industry stakeholders called on Congress to update Medicare reimbursement policies for telehealth services, Health Data Management reports.

Hearing Details

During the hearing, Kofi Jones, vice president of public affairs for American Well, noted that telehealth language in the Social Security Act has not been updated since 2000. She said that under the current language, telehealth services are restricted to individuals located in rural areas who can present at “a clinical originating site,” meaning that patients still must drive to receive care and that individuals seeking care in urban areas are ineligible for telehealth services.

Rashid Bashshur — executive director for eHealth at the University of Michigan Health System — said that reimbursement for telehealth services also has been limited to the “least efficient modality of telemedicine service, namely synchronous video communication between an originating site and a remote site,” with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii. Bashshur and Jones argued that individuals residing in urban areas also struggle with access to care.

They recommended that Medicare expand reimbursement for telehealth regardless of:

  • Patients’ geographic location;
  • The services provided; and
  • The real-time nature of the services.

However, Ateev Mehrotra, a physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a policy analyst at RAND, told lawmakers that it is difficult “to make blanket statements” on the effectiveness of telehealth. She added that the complexity “makes it difficult for Medicare or other payers to make decisions on whether to pay for a given type of telehealth” (Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 5/2).

Congressional Action

According to CQ HealthBeat, it is unlikely that lawmakers will develop any policy solutions before the end of the current legislative session. However, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in a statement about the hearing said he intends to examine how federal rules can be changed to promote greater use of health IT (Young, CQ HealthBeat, 5/1). The subcommittee is seeking feedback on efforts to expand telehealth access until June 16.

Reaction

In a written statement, Joel White, executive director of the Health IT Now Coalition, praised the committee for holding a hearing and encouraged lawmakers to support the Tele-MED Act (HR 3077), which would allow Medicare beneficiaries to receive care from a licensed provider outside of their state (Health Data Management, 5/2).

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