Senate Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Expand Telehealth Coverage

August 4, 2014 in News

Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) have introduced a bill (S 2662) that aims to expand the use of telehealth services under federal health programs, Government Health IT reports.

The senators said the measure is companion legislation to the House version (HR 3306) that was introduced last year (Sullivan, Government Health IT, 8/1).

Background

Last month, CMS in its proposal for the 2015 Physician Fee Schedule included adding four services to the list of ones that Medicare beneficiaries can receive via telehealth:

  • Annual wellness visits;
  • Psychoanalysis;
  • Psychotherapy; and
  • Prolonged evaluation and management services (iHealthBeat, 7/24).

Bill Details

The Senate bill — called the “Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2014″ — would:

  • Adjust Medicare home health payments to account for remote patient monitoring;
  • Allow state Medicaid programs to set up high-risk pregnancy networks;
  • Cover home-based video services for hospice care, home dialysis and homebound Medicare beneficiaries in some cases (Hall, FierceHealthIT, 8/1);
  • Enable accountable ¬†care organizations to cover telehealth and remote patient monitoring as supplemental benefits to the same extent as Medicare Advantage plans (S 2662, 7/24); and
  • Expand telehealth coverage to patient-centered medical homes and some critical access and sole community hospitals (Government Health IT, 8/1).

The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

ATA Supports Bill

In a release, the American Telemedicine Association said it “applauds” Cochran and Wicker’s efforts (ATA release, 7/30).

ATA said that the senators’ bill “includes several provisions that may see significant budget savings and build on recent payment innovations such as [ACOs] and other incremental budget-sensitive proposals.” The organization added that S 2662 and its companion bill “are instrumental in demonstrating widespread congressional support and in prompting the Congressional Budget Office to provide a budget estimate” (FierceHealthIT, 8/1).

Congressional Hearing on Telehealth

In related news, stakeholders at a congressional hearing on Thursday testified that telehealth can help small medical practices improve access to care, but that many barriers to widespread adaption of the technology remain, Health Data Management reports (Health Data Management, 8/1).

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), chair of the Small Business Subcommittee on Health and Technology, outlined several barriers to the adoption of telehealth, including:

  • Broadband availability;
  • Cost;
  • Licensing requirements; and
  • Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance reimbursement rules.

Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) also noted that reimbursement rates have been an issue, adding that more needs to be done to address how to handle patients’ personal health information.

University of Virginia Center for Telehealth Director Karen Rheuban said that administrative and regulatory burdens also have slowed the adaption of telehealth, in addition to low reimbursement rates. She noted that while billions had been spent on telehealth technology, Medicare reimbursed less than $12 million last year for telehealth services.

Brenda Dintiman, testifying for the American Academy of Dermatology Association, added, “Without reimbursement, providers and patients are unlikely to utilize telehealth.”

However, Megan McHugh — director of the Program in Health Policy and Implementation at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine — said she thought CMS’ decision to gradually expand reimbursement for telehealth services has been appropriate. She said, “Although research on the impact of telemedicine on cost, quality, and access is very promising, the evidence I believe is not conclusive. ¬†(Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 8/1).

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