New Senate bill seeks to reduce restrictions on telemedicine use

By Jeff Lagasse
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While the Senate’s efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act imploded last week, that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from introducing bills that would make tweaks to the healthcare system in smaller ways. One such bill, sponsored by Reps. Doris Matsui, (D-California), and Bill Johnson, (R-Ohio), would expand the use of telemedicine to reduce costs.
 
The bill, the Evidence-Based Telehealth Expansion Act of 2017, was introduced late last week and would give the Health and Human Services secretary the authority to waive Medicare restrictions on the kinds of telemedicine it covers -- as long as the actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services concludes it would indeed save money.
 
Restrictions that would be lifted include any geographic limitations, as well as limitations on the use of store-and-forward technologies. Store-and-forward technologies are where patient healthcare data and digital images -- such as radiologic images -- are captured, packaged as a case file, and transferred via telecommunication services to a clinician who then responds with a diagnosis and any relevant therapeutic recommendations.
 
Additionally, the bill seeks to lift limitations on the types of healthcare providers who can offer these sorts of telemedicine services, with the caveat that they be a Medicare-enrolled provider. The bill would also remove limitations on on specific codes designated as telehealth services.
 
The waivers would come with certain restrictions. In addition to the CMS actuary rubber-stamping the waivers’ net reduction in spending, the HHS secretary would have to determine that the waivers reduce spending without reducing the quality of care; improve care quality without increasing spending; and wouldn’t deny or limit the coverage or provision of benefits for any given individual.
 
According to Politico, neither Republicans or Democrats see much chance in big telemedicine changes being attached to larger bills, such as the CHIP reauthorization act slated for later this year, but they remain open to opportunities.