Senate Subcommittee Appears To Support Expanding Telehealth

April 22, 2015 in News

During a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, stakeholders told lawmakers that telehealth is helping achieve financial and care-related benefits but that barriers remain to widespread use, AHA News reports.

Hearing Details

According to AHA News, industry experts told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet that the use of telehealth has helped lower costs and improve patient outcomes among those with limited access to care (AHA News, 4/21).

However, they also pointed out several challenges preventing further use of telehealth services, including:

  • The Federal Communications Commission, which has moved slowly to promote telehealth despite the creation of a group tasked with examining ways to speed up deployment;
  • The lack of interstate licensing, with rules currently requiring physicians to be licensed in each state in which they provide telehealth services;
  • Poor broadband connectivity, which can limit the deployment of telehealth in several parts of the country, not just rural areas (Gross, IDG News Service/Computer World, 4/21); and
  • Provider reimbursements (AHA News, 4/21).

According to Politico‘s “Morning eHealth,” subcommittee members largely agreed with increasing the use of telehealth, with more than a dozen lawmakers voicing their support.

In addition, many of the lawmakers said that Medicare should reimburse for such services.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), ranking Democratic member of the subcommittee, said, “Innovative markets, including in mobile technology, could be unleashed if Medicare were to step out and reimburse more extensively for telehealth services” (Allen et al., “Morning eHealth,” Politico, 4/22).

However, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) raised concerns about the privacy of patients’ health records, noting that “providers can be using the least costly way of storing this information.”

He suggested that Congress may need to pass legislation that would create security practice requirements for telehealth providers (IDG News Service/Computer World, 4/21).

Meanwhile, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he was disappointed that FCC so far has refused to allow nursing homes to receive subsidies through its Healthcare Connect Fund for adopting broadband connections.

He said, “These are facilities that could benefit enormously from the use of telemedicine in the delivery of health care,” adding, “It strikes me that we ought to be doing everything that we can to promote that” (“Morning eHealth,” Politico, 4/22).

Senators To Propose Telehealth Parity Legislation

In related news, subcommittee Chair Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) during the hearing announced plans to reintroduce a bill that would extend Medicare coverage for telehealth services provided in underserved areas, MedCity News reports.

The Telehealth Advancement Act, by Wicker and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), would aim to help move toward parity payment and help improve Medicare reimbursements. Last year, the bill died in committee.

At the hearing, Wicker said, “I hope today’s discussion will serve as an educational forum on the progress we’ve made, as well as an opportunity to identify ways we can ensure all Americans have access to these great advancements in patient care and delivery” (Versel, MedCity News, 4/21).

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