Despite potential, telemedicine lags among seniors, Medicare beneficiaries

Some worry access to virtual visits will raise costs
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By John DeGaspari

Nearly 20 years after videoconferencing technology became available for health services, fewer than 1 percent of Medicare beneficiaries use it, according to Kaiser Health News.

In fact, only two Medicare Advantage insurers--Anthem and a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center health plan--offer virtual visits, and the traditional Medicare program has limited telemedicine payments to certain rural areas. 

Aetna and UnitedHealthcare cover telemedicine services only for members younger than 65. 

Congress has maintained the restrictions out of concern that the service might increase Medicare expenses, according to the article. The Congressional Budget Office and other analysts worry that giving seniors access to doctors online will encourage them to use more services, not replace costly visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers.

Some organizations, including the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, say it's time for Congress to expand use of telemedicine in Medicare.

Many physicians also are interested in increasing the availability of telemedicine, according to mHealth Intelligence. It cites the latest countrywide survey from QuantiaMD and American Well, showing that 57 percent of doctors would conduct video visits with patients. 

Even NATO is getting on the telemedicine bandwagon, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. NATO leaders are working with a telemedicine hub in South Dakota to develop a multinational system to deliver medical services remotely during disasters. 

To learn more:
- here's the KHN article
- check out the mHealth Intelligence article
- read the Star Tribune article

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