Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore), one of the chairs of the Senate's Committee on Aging, held up at least four wireless health devices during the Senate hearing last week: Nonin's Bluetooth-enabled pulse oximeter, MedApps' HealthPal, Corventis' PiiX sensor and another one which we are working to identify, but looks like it might be a transdermal medication delivery patch made by Isis Biopolymer. Following a quick description of each, Wyden noted that he was of the view that these technologies would save Medicare money in the years ahead. For the sake of the hearing, Wyden said he would refer to these types of devices and services as "eCare".
"I am of the view that eCare could be a huge step forward in improving the care for older people and lowering costs to Medicare as a government program," Wyden said. "At the same time... I want to make clear that I am not of the view that everyone ought to be able to run up with a gadget and say, OK, let's now make this eligible for Medicare reimbursement. This is going to have to involve a program to really scrutinize the cost effectiveness of various products. We know that Don Berwick has been nominated to head an important office in this area: The Federal Medicare program. I think he ought to examine eCare as one of his top priorities."
Wyden lamented the current state of Medicare reimbursement and noted that policymakers need to spark a new discussion about the way Medicare pays doctors:
"The reason I feel so strongly about this is the Medicare reimbursement system is fundamentally flawed," Wyden continued. "It rewards inefficiency and it generally only pays the older people when they go in-person to the physician's office. In effect, you have a system that literally rewards volume, rewards people who come in whether or not that might be the appropriate approach and you will have -- in my view, if that persists -- greater expense for Medicare and the taxpayers than you would have if you looked to the kinds of technologies that I have offered the committee here today. [These technologies] could allow people to be cared for in a more constructive way at home, [while producing] better quality and more timely care at a cheaper price to taxpayers."
Wyden then noted that eCare is largely passed over by CMS:
"At this point Medicare barely acknowledges the existence of eCare. Medicare spends over $400 billion a year -- about $2 million is spent on these kinds of technologies. In particular I think these eCare technologies could reduce hospital readmissions, which could in turn, save the Medicare program from substantial costs in the years ahead. Only when the country has a reliable broadband infrastructure in place to encourage the development and deployment of innovations in healthcare will it be possible to transform the healthcare system that is today all about sick care into one that finally focuses on healthcare and keeping our folks well."
For more of Wyden's remarks from the hearing, watch this eight minute clip that the MedApps team posted: