Bill to Expand Telehealth Advances in Senate
A bill working its way through the Senate could expand in-home care, including by make it easier for seniors with chronic illnesses to access telehealth.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee on May 18 voted to advance the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017 (S. 870). Among other things, the bipartisan bill would expand Medicare coverage for telehealth services.
Telehealth is a broad term that includes things like virtual doctor visits though internet-connected devices, and other kinds of remote care.
As it currently stands, Medicare only covers some beneficiaries, like those who live in rural areas, for telehealth services. The new bill would expand telehealth coverage to include people with chronic conditions, such as those who have suffered strokes or who receive home dialysis therapy.
The bill would also extend the pilot Independence at Home (IAH) demonstration, which is slated to end on September 30, for an additional two years, and raise the maximum number of allowable beneficiaries to 15,000 from its current cap of 10,000.
IAH, which began in 2012, lets medical practitioners like nurses and doctors deliver in-home primary care for applicable Medicare beneficiaries. The demonstration aims to reduce unnecessary visits to the emergency room, avoidable hospitalizations and readmissions, and therefore lower total Medicare costs.
“It empowers seniors, however they get their Medicare,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “This is going to give those seniors the tools so they can navigate this extraordinarily byzantine health care system.”
Another major aspect of the legislation involves its potential for savings. IAH saved Medicare more than $25 million in 2015 and more than $10 million in 2016, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) found.
Though expanding telehealth coverage would cost hundreds of millions more dollars, those spending increases would be canceled out by eliminating funding in the Medicare Improvement Fund, according to a preliminary estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.
“As the first major bipartisan health care bill introduced in the 115th Congress, the CHRONIC Care Act will improve disease management, lower Medicare costs and streamline care coordination services – all with bipartisan solutions and without adding to the deficit,” noted Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), another one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
The bill also has backers from within the home health care industry. The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) and the Visiting Nurse Associations of America (VNAA) both expressed support over a previous and similar version of the CHRONIC Care Act.
The committee approved the bill unanimously by a vote of 26-0.
Written by Tim Regan