A Step in the Right Direction: Congress Proposes Bill for Medicare to Expand Telehealth Services
According to a recent analysis by Towers Watson, telemedicine has the potential to deliver more than $6 billion a year in healthcare savings.
To achieve these savings, however, would “require a shift in patient and physician mindsets, health plan willingness to integrate and reimburse such services, and regulatory support in all states,” says Allen Khoury, M.D., a senior consultant at Towers Watson.
The use of medicine is expected to continue to increase, as costs are lowering and more insurance companies are beginning to support telemedicine costs.
According to Definitive Healthcare’s hospital database, there are currently 516 hospitals that offer a telemedicine module.
This analysis is timely as there is new Congressional effort to expand telehealth, by allowing Medicare reimbursements for more treatments. Telehealth is an expansion of telemedicine, and encompasses preventative, promotive, and curative aspects.
This bill, the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2014, introduced this July by U.S. Representative Mike Thompson and Greg Harper, would expand telehealth services in three phases over four years. The effort would begin in counties containing populations less than 50,000 and extend in time to larger counties.
Specifically, the bill would expand the use of Medicare-reimbursed video conferencing and store-forward technologies in rural health clinics and health centers. Remote patient monitoring would be used for diabetes, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Video conferencing would be used for home health services and agencies, durable medical equipment, home dialysis, and hospice services.
The American Telemedicine Association and the Telecommunications Industry Association have shown their support for the proposed bill.
This bill would be a step in the right direction for the future of telehealth and Medicare because currently, Medicare only allows some telehealth delivery and limits reimbursable use to rural areas. The bill’s sponsor said this action would “put telehealth services under Medicare on the path towards parity with in-person healthcare visits.”
That passing of this bill would be beneficial for those rural populations, as well as the future of telehealth and telemedicine. It could not only bring the topic of telehealth to the forefront of conversation, but begin the shift in patient and physician mindset that is needed to begin those untapped savings.