Bill would expand federal reimbursement for telehealth

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A bill introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this week would expand reimbursement for telehealth services in federal programs and create a federal standard for medical licensure in telehealth.

The bill--H.R. 6719--would increase access to telemedicine within Medicare; Medicaid; the Children's Health Insurance Program; TRICARE, which provides health benefits for military personnel, retirees and their families; federal employee health plans and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It would set a federal reimbursement policy in which "no [medical] benefit covered shall be excluded solely because it is furnished via a telecommunications system," reports Healthcare IT News.

Not surprisingly, the American Telemedicine Association enthusiastically supports the legislation--known as the Telehealth Promotion Act--introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.).

"This bill represents a panacea for federal involvement in telemedicine, eliminating archaic barriers and expanding opportunities for remote healthcare," ATA CEO Jonathan Linkous said in a statement. If passed, this bill will almost instantly make our federally-funded health system more effective and more efficient."

The bill would require providers to be licensed only in their own state to be allowed to provide telehealth services nationwide. A bill introduced last summer to allow VA providers to practice across state lines was not enacted, nor was a previous bill to expand federal reimbursement for telehealth services.

Among the changes proposed in the new bill:

  • Providing an incentive for hospitals to lower readmissions with telemedicine by offering them a share of the total cost savings.
  • Allowing accountable care organizations to use telemedicine as an equivalent substitute for in-person care.
  • Launching new pilot programs for remote patient monitoring for up to 10 designated conditions.

Reimbursement remains one of the primary barriers to wider adoption of telehealth, though proponents such as the ATA cite its potential to expand care to remote areas, improve care and cut costs.

With the focus still on cutting federal spending, though, after the deal to avert the fiscal cliff, lawmakers are unlikely to agree to ways to expand services in federal programs, Healthcare IT News points out. WellPoint, the second largest health insurer in the country, however, has just announced plans to cover telemedicine services, joining other private insurers moving in that direction.

To learn more:
- check out the bill
- here's the ATA statement
- read the Healthcare IT News article

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