Bipartisan Telehealth Bill Introduced

Oct 23, 2013 Issues: Economy & Jobs, Health Care, Seniors, Veterans

WASHINGTON, DC – Legislation to strengthen Medicare and enhance Medicaid through expanded telemedicine coverage has been introduced by a bipartisan group of House lawmakers.

The “Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2013,” authored by U.S. Reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), builds on existing payment innovations. This proposal is the result of a months-long drafting process involving patients, providers, and other industry stakeholders, the bill sponsors say.

“These efforts began with a conversation about physician shortages and concerns with patients’ access to quality and affordable health care,” the authors said in a letter urging their colleagues to cosponsor the bill. “Until we are able to attract more physicians to rural communities and tighten the access gap, the next best alternative is to use technology to connect health professionals with underserved populations – rural and urban – through telehealth networks.”

Among other reforms, the bill adjusts Medicare home health payments to account for remote patient monitoring and expands coverage to all critical access and sole community hospitals, regardless of metropolitan status. The package also covers home-based video services for hospice care, home dialysis, and homebound beneficiaries.

Under the bill, states will also have the option of setting up high-risk pregnancy networks within their Medicaid programs. This model centers on the success of state programs, notably Arkansas ANGELS, to use telehealth for the coordination and improvement of at-risk births and neonatal care.

“Our aim is to complement states that are pioneering telemedicine across the country,” the lawmakers continued. “We hope to help states lower health costs by encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles as well as reducing avoidable hospital visits.”

Many trade associations have signaled support for the legislation, including the American Telemedicine Association (ATA).

“Studies have shown that telehealth can improve access, reduce costs and improve the quality of healthcare,” said Jonathan Linkous, chief executive officer of the ATA. “To unlock this potential, we need to give health providers the ability to use this technology where ever appropriate. ATA supports this legislation because it takes a sensible approach to move aside government restrictions and allow patients access to health services wherever they are located. Instead of going to the doctor, it allows the doctor to go to the patient.”

The bill, H.R. 3306, has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Ways and Means.