Washington – Today, Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA-05), Gregg Harper (R-MS-03), Diane Black (R-TN-06), and Peter Welch (D-VT-AL) introduced two pieces of bipartisan legislation to expand access to telehealth services under Medicare. Rural and underserved communities often struggle with inadequate access to healthcare due to provider shortages and lack of resources. Metropolitan areas can face similar challenges because of urban isolation and cultural barriers. The Representatives introduced a package of bills to combat these issues and improve access to care by taking advantage of ongoing advancements in telemedicine.
The Medicare Telehealth Parity Act and CONNECT for Health Act of 2017 would expand the list of providers eligible to provide telehealth services, remove geographic barriers to telehealth care, and expand the services eligible to be offered via telehealth. The bill would also allow remote patient monitoring for patients with chronic conditions, allowing them to more easily receive in-home dialysis, hospice care, home health services, tele-stroke services, and eligible outpatient mental health services.
“Telehealth saves lives and reduces costs; it’s a win-win for both patients and providers,” said Thompson. “We’ve all seen how technology has made us more connected in our daily lives. These same advances allow physicians to provide more patients with better healthcare—especially patients in rural, difficult-to-access, and underserved communities. Unfortunately, regulations haven’t kept pace with the times. These commonsense, bipartisan policies will allow us to make sure every American gets the best care and the best treatment—no matter where they live. The Caucus will give us a venue to collaborate with our interested colleagues to advance the delivery of care via telemedicine.”
“With an aging population that is placing an unprecedented demand on the health care delivery systems, there is a growing need for finding alternative solutions to deliver quality and affordable health care to underserved and rural areas, like my home state of Mississippi,” said Harper. “This quality, bipartisan legislation will help reshape the way we think about access to health care in Mississippi and throughout our country and will contribute to the twenty-first century innovations that will bring down costs and tighten the access gap for those who need it most. I am honored to continue to work with Reps. Mike Thompson, Diane Black, and Peter Welch on these important issues.”
“My many years as a nurse, especially my time spent working in long term care, taught me that if Medicare is to provide real benefit to seniors while ensuring real efficiency for taxpayers, it must embrace the advances in technology and innovation that are already taking place across the health care sector.” said Black. “That is what telehealth is all about—promoting cost savings and quality care through the use of technology like remote patient monitoring services. Harnessing the power of telemedicine is a win for seniors, a win for providers, a win for taxpayers, and a win for rural Tennessee.”
“All Americans need access to quality, affordable health care no matter where they live. Federal policy must keep pace with advancements in telemedicine technology,” Welch said. “Our caucus will strongly advocate for the expansion of cost effective and convenient telehealth services that ensure access to quality health care in rural America.”
The Medicare Telehealth Parity Act would phase in the expansion of telehealth services by:
- Removing the geographic barriers under current law and allow for the provision of telehealth services in rural, underserved, and metropolitan areas
- Expanding the list of providers and related covered service that are eligible to provide telehealth services to include respiratory therapist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech language pathologist, and audiologist
- Expanding access to telestroke services, regardless of where the patient is located;
- Allowing remote patient monitoring (RPM) for patients with chronic conditions such as heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and diabetes; and
- Allowing the beneficiary’s home to serve as a site of care for home dialysis, hospice care, eligible outpatient mental health services, and home health services.
The CONNECT for Health Act of 2017 would:
- Expand originating sites for telehealth care
- Create a Medicare Remote Patient Monitoring benefit for certain high-risk, high-cost patients
- Lift restriction on the use of telehealth in Accountable Care Organizations, and Medicare Advantage
- Urge the Secretary of Health and Human Services to evaluate the applicability of telehealth in projects before the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI)
- Authorize a study on the use of telehealth services once restrictions have been lifted.
Thompson, Harper, Black, and Welch also announced the formation of the Congressional Telehealth Caucus. This bipartisan group will discuss how best to improve remote care to Americans who need it most.