ATA head: Government a 'lagging partner' for telehealth

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American Telemedicine Association CEO Jonathan Linkous calls the government a "lagging partner" for the telehealth industry and says that government policies have proven to be the biggest barriers to telehealth deployment for two decades in a recent commentary posted to iHealthBeat.org.

Still, he believes that telehealth deployment will thrive in 2013 as care costs continue to rise, provider shortages persist and demand for care skyrockets.

"With the cost of healthcare at $2.7 trillion and rising, the fiscal crisis is forcing even the worst Luddites in health and government to look seriously at new alternatives," Linkous, pictured, says. "Telemedicine is one of those 'new ideas' whose time has come."

Linkous also points to telehealth's growing number of supporters as a reason to expect big things from the industry this year. In particular, he says, partnerships with state legislators and advocacy efforts by patient groups and medical societies will be key. Payer efforts, as well--such as WellPoint's plans to include coverage for virtual doctor visits--should help telehealth to gain and maintain momentum.

Linkous predicts that an increasing number of state government officials will work to ensure that private payers be required to reimburse for telemedicine services that would be reimbursed for in-person visits; at present, he says, 16 states have adopted such legislation. Additionally, he says to expect expanded Medicaid coverage of telemedicine.

At the federal government level, Linkous points to legislation introduced to the House by Rep. Mike Thompson that proposes an expansion of reimbursement for telehealth services in federal programs as a "step in the right direction." The bill also would create a federal standard for medical licensure in telehealth.

This year "is a year for federal and state governments to play catch up with the rest of the health and technology sectors by either supporting the use of telemedicine or at least by ceasing to be a roadblock in its pathway to the future," Linkous says.

To learn more:
- read the commentary

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