Congress gets another chance to advance telemedicine

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund
09:54 am

A new version of a bill designed to phase in telemedicine for Medicare beneficiaries is back on the table in Washington.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., introduced the Medicare Health Parity Act of 2015 on July 7. Co-sponsors of the bill are Reps. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., Diane Black, R-Tenn., and Peter Welch, D-Vt.

The four legislators said this bill would put Medicare "on the path toward parity with in-person healthcare visits."

“Both patients and providers want telehealth for two simple reasons – it saves money and saves lives,” Thompson said in a press release. “Telehealth allows physicians to provide more patients with better healthcare, but while we’ve witnessed much advancement in the field of telemedicine, our policies still lag behind. By passing this commonsense, bipartisan bill we can expand telehealth services and make sure the best care and the best treatments are available to all Americans, no matter where they live.”

[See also: Congress tries to tie telehealth expansion to Medicare reimbursements]

The first version of the bill, submitted to the House on July 31, 2014, called for a four-year, phased-in approach and featured nine co-sponsors from both parties. This bill calls for a three-phase approach. According to Thompson, it would

  • Remove geographic barriers and push telehealth into rural, underserved and metropolitan regions;
  • Add respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and audiologists to the list of providers eligible to provide telehealth services;
  • Enable patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart failure and COPD to take advantage of remote patient monitoring services;
  • Expand access to telestroke services; and
  • Include the patient's home as an allowable site of care for home health services, certain outpatient mental health services, hospice care and home dialysis.

The legislation is backed by several groups, including the American Telemedicine Association, Telecommunications Industry Association, American Speech-Language Hearing Association, American Association for Respiratory Care, Remote Cardiac Services Providers Group, American Society of Nephrology, National Association for the Support of Long Term Care, National Rural Health Association, Biocom, Nursing Community Coalition (a collection of 44 nursing groups), American Heart Association, American Stroke Association, Visiting Nurse Associations of America and the American Occupational Therapy Association.

“This bi-partisan legislation takes an important step forward in removing artificial restrictions to telehealth access for millions of Medicare beneficiaries,” Jonathan Linkous, chief executive officer of American Telemedicine Association, said in a separate press release. “ATA supports this legislation because it supports our mission to ensure parity for telehealth technology in the delivery of care."

Mike Geldart, COO of BioTelemtry and president of the Remote Cardiac Services Provider Group (RCSPG), added that the bill would also “remove some of the reimbursement roadblocks that have limited access to innovative remote monitoring solutions. It takes the regulatory handcuffs off of CMS so that healthcare professionals and suppliers can do what we do best, serve those patients often in the greatest need.” 

Thompson's bill follows Harper's own H.R. 2066, the Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2015, submitted on April 28. Harper's bill can be seen here.

See also: 

Congress looks to erase telemedicine barriers for veterans

What's keeping Medicare from adopting telemedicine? Cost