Third Time Could Be the Charm for Telehealth Medicare Legislation

Is the third time the charm for a bill that would expand Medicare coverage for telehealth services?

A bipartisan group of lawmakers took another swing at introducing the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2019 in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. 

The bill was reintroduced by members of the Congressional Telehealth Caucus — U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.). The bill was first introduced in 2016, then re-introduced it in 2017.

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“Telehealth is the future of health care. The technology is advancing, more providers and patients are relying on it, and we have broad bipartisan support,” Sen. Schatz said in a recent press release. “This bill will help ensure that every American gets the care they need no matter where they live.”

The reintroduction of the CONNECT Act is a major step towards making telehealth services — and, by extension, remote patient monitoring (RPM) — reimbursable for home health providers. RPM devices alert providers to their patients’ downward health trends, and can play an important role in reducing hospital readmission rates.

If passed, the new bill would require the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee (MedPAC) to study and report on which telehealth services would be appropriate for home-based care, provide clarification for fraud and abuse laws regarding technologies provided to beneficiaries, and allow for the use of telehealth in recertification for hospice care.

While in-home providers have begun embracing telehealth services, the lack of reimbursement under Medicare has hindered widespread implementation.

“It’s the biggest barrier right now for adoption,” Health Recovery Solutions (HRS) CEO Jarrett Bauer told Home Health Care News. “Right now, telehealth can’t be the standard of care because it’s not a reimbursable event. Solving this problem would impact and greatly increase the quality of care across the country immediately.”

The Hoboken, New Jersey-based HRS provides medical centers and home care agencies with a comprehensive remote monitoring platform, including blood pressure monitors, scales and pulse oximeters.

Overall, only 0.25% of Medicare beneficiaries use telehealth services, according to a U.S. Senate fact sheet.

Providers are often reluctant to invest in telehealth because of concerns surrounding their bottom line.

“Getting into the budget of a home care agency is hard because margins are so thin,” Bauer said “Something like [the CONNECT Act] would have a tremendously big impact because it would offset some of the costs, and enable agencies to provide more services to patients that keep them engaged and proactive in their disease health management.”

Companion legislation was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio).

Overall, the CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 has the support of more than 100 organizations, including AARP, the American Medical Association and the Federation of American Hospitals.

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