Groups Comment on Draft Bill To Increase Telehealth Access

January 28, 2015 in News

Several health care groups have submitted comments on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s draft telemedicine bill, Politico Pro reports (Pittman, Politico Pro, 1/27).

Background

Earlier this month, eight members of the committee circulated the draft bill to get feedback from industry stakeholders by Jan. 26. If the lawmakers receive positive feedback, they could introduce a final bill in February, according to congressional and lobbying sources. However, negative feedback could delay the release of a final measure.

Bill Details

Members of a congressional “telehealth working group” drafted the measure, called Advancing Telehealth Opportunities in Medicare. The draft bill contains provisions that would allow Medicare to make additional payments for telehealth services if they meet specific requirements, such as:

  • Providing unmet medical needs; or
  • Reducing costs.

The draft measure would require CMS’ chief actuary to ensure that the telehealth payments “would reduce (or would not result in any increase in) net program spending” (iHealthBeat, 1/14).

American Hospital Association Comments

American Hospital Association Executive Vice President Rick Pollack in a letter to the working group wrote, “The AHA strongly agrees with your goal of expanding coverage of telehealth services in Medicare, and appreciates the specification of a mechanism for doing so.” However, Pollack noted that “given the growing body of evidence that telehealth increases quality, improves patient satisfaction and reduces costs, we believe a more global approach to expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth is warranted” (AHA release, 1/26).

American Telemedicine Association Comments

Meanwhile, the American Telemedicine Association in a letter to the working group wrote that the draft bill “represents a milestone in enabling [Medicare] providers to use telehealth tools.”

ATA also outlined 13 areas in Medicare or Medicaid that it believes adding reimbursements for telehealth services could result in cost savings, including:

  • Federally qualified health centers;
  • Home kidney dialysis;
  • Tele-stroke care; and
  • Remote patient monitoring for congestive heart failure (ATA letter, 1/26).

Health IT Now Comments

Health IT Now in its letter to the working group “applaud[ed]” the group’s “efforts to remove current Medicare barriers to beneficiaries receiving telehealth services” and “encourage[ed]” the group “to mirror steps the private-sector payers have taken to incorporate and integrate telehealth into the major medical benefits policies they offer.”  The group also urged Congress to take more action to ensure changes are made to lift telehealth restrictions in Medicare because HHS and CMS are unlikely to do so on their own (Health IT Now letter, 1/26).

Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Comments

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society in its comments on the draft bill outlined nine suggestions to improve the measure, including:

  • Eliminating telemedicine reimbursement restrictions under Section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act; and
  • Expanding telehealth access under alternative payment models like bundled payments and accountable care organizations (Politico Pro, 1/27).
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