What Tuesday’s midterms mean for mHealth
November 6, 2014 in Medical Technology
Now that the Republicans have wrestled control of the Senate away from Democrats and maintained their lead in the House of Representatives we can expect a continued tug-of-war between President Barack Obama and a feisty and combative Congress in the national spotlight.
But what does this mean for mobile and telehealth moving forward?
[See also: mHealth and engagement: A delicate duet]
It’s not all that easy to figure out at this point. While the so-called Obamacare issue was at or near the top of many a Republican agenda, those now taking office or staying in office have generally conceded that the president’s sweeping healthcare reform package will be tough to reverse. At best, Congress will find a way to stay the course or make small changes that appeal to a skeptical public; at worse, Congress and the White House will clash, bluster and come to a stalemate.
What may take a hit is Medicaid. While the Affordable Care Act expanded the program to cover more people, 23 states have opposed that expansion, arguing that it’s too expensive and the federal government won’t be able to support it long-term. With more Republican governors and state legislatures now in power, expect that backlash against Medicaid to continue, and probably grow.
This is where mHealth could find some common ground. While healthcare leaders have generally argued that mobile and telehealth in particular will only advance if Medicare and Medicaid pick up more of the reimbursement slack, many pilot projects have been proven to cut costs, improve access to healthcare and positively affect clinical outcomes. So, on the one hand, while doctors won’t be seeing any more money for using mHealth to connect with the underserved population, they could see the technology as a better means of doing more (and better) with what they have. The reimbursement angle will be a tough sell – even tougher now, going forward – but this could force mHealth advocates to be more convincing about the clinical benefits.
[See also: Telehealth bill may fix payment issues]
This year’s elections should brighten the mood on Wall Street (which actually hasn’t had a lot to complain about recently anyways), and that might bode well for mHealth innovation and business development. But while the industry has seen its fair share of investment dollars and more than its fair share of new companies, some pundits were cautioning even before this week that we’re nearing a saturation point – at which time we’ll start to see a backlash. That could hurt, for want of a better term, “meaningful innovation.”
Remember, too, that Congress and the mHealth industry have been struggling for quite some time to find a balance between innovation and regulation. We’ve already seen a steady increase in data breaches and hacking issues, so the whole regulation argument certainly hasn’t been resolved. Will a pro-business climate push that issue backwards? Can a party that runs on a “less government” platform find common ground with those who argue that the fast-growing mHealth industry (remember, it’s been described as a ‘Wild, Wild West’ at times) needs a steady federal hand?
To be sure, mHealth has seen its champions on both sides of the aisle – from Minnesota’s Al Franken on the left to Iowa’s Chuck Grassley on the right to Maine’s Angus King in the middle. And for every Democrat like California Rep. Mike Honda, there are an equal number of Republicans who have put their name to favorable legislation – Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee, Fred Upton in Michigan, and Thad Cochran and Gregg Harper in Mississippi come to mind.
A conclusion? Forget about federal funding for new mHealth for a while – the mood just isn’t there – and focus instead on innovation and actual, concrete, clinical results.