Two senate bills aim to extend telemedicine coverage and use


Two new pieces of telemedicine legislation are on the table that could establish a federal model for Medicare populations, and improve telemedicine access to patients with chronic conditions.

Introduced by Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI), the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act requires the Center for Medicare and Medication Innovation (CMMI) to “test the effect of including telehealth services in Medicare health care delivery reform models.” Additionally, the bipartisan bill would also require the Department of Health and Human Services to allow eligible hospitals to test telehealth services through CMMI.

From there, the HHS would direct CMMI to conduct evaluations for cost, effectiveness and improvement of health outcomes without increasing the cost of delivery. And if all goes as planned, a system-wide program will be established and covered through Medicare.

The bill is focused primarily on those living in areas far away from healthcare services, while setting standards for both urban and rural populations. Senator Peters added that it [bill] would help rural and underserved communities who would otherwise not have access to specialty care, or who are overusing the emergency department.

Gardner agreed with that, adding: “The Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act would allow Medicare to expand coverage of telehealth services and increase access for people living in rural America. It would also incentivize the healthcare industry to develop new technologies that could potentially reduce costs and improve patient health.”

The other bill is actually reintroduced Senate Bill 870, under the new name – Creating High Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic Care Act of 2017 (also referred to as CHRONIC). It aims to expand telemedicine services for chronic disease management and at-home care coordination.

To that end, the bill will expand telemedicine coverage under Medicare Advantage Plan B in 2020, give Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) more freedom to use telemedicine, and extend the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ home-based primary care teams for people with multiple chronic conditions. The plan is to extend the “Independence at Home” demonstration to two years and increase the maximum allowable number of Medicare beneficiaries in the program from 10,000 to 15,000.

According to the recently released state-by-state report by the American Telemedicine Association, this was the first year when all Medicaid agencies were covering at least some form of telemedicine services; the situation is somewhat different with Medicare patients who still can’t be reimbursed for using telemedicine services in all states.