It’s been well documented that a small percentage of patients account for a disproportionate amount of the spending on health care in the United States. The National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, for example, estimates that care for patients with chronic diseases like heart disease, COPD, and diabetes “accounts for approximately 75 percent of the nation’s aggregate health care spending,” with 45 percent of Americans having one or more chronic condition. It’s also been shown that the use of telehealth technologies can aid in the management of these conditions. To that end, as Health Data Management first reported, a new bipartisan Senate bill aimed at improving the quality of care for these high-cost patients enrolled in Medicare includes key telehealth provisions. On April 6, Senate Finance Committee members announced the reintroduction of S. 870, the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act. Introduced by Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR), and others, the legislation, the product of efforts by the Finance Committee’s Chronic Care Working Group, has already garnered bipartisan support. “This bill provides new options and tools for seniors and their doctors to coordinate care and makes it less burdensome to stay healthy,” Sen. Wyden said in a press release.
Among the telehealth provisions of the legislation are additional telehealth benefits for Medicare Advantage patients, and the expansion of originating sites to include patient homes for telehealth consults among those receiving dialysis services. Accountable care organizations (ACOs) would also be able to expand the telehealth services that they offered to beneficiaries. Finally, the legislation would expand Medicare reimbursement for telestroke care. Other sections of the wide-ranging bill include an emphasis on improving home care for Medicare beneficiaries, a focus on improving care coordination, and additional flexibility for beneficiaries to become part of ACOs. Above all, as Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who also helped introduce the legislation, noted in a press release, the bill would “help promote better-coordinated care for seniors with multiple chronic health conditions while also empowering doctors and patients to work together to improve the overall health.”
Notably, S. 870 is only the latest bill seeking to promote the use of telemedicine introduced during the 115th Congress. CTeL reported last week on some other recent lawmaker efforts in this area. At the end of March, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced S. 787, the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act, which would expand Medicare’s coverage of telehealth services by permitting eligible hospitals, through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), to test the increased use of telehealth care. In February, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) introduced versions of the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act in both chambers. The bill, which seeks to expand access to telestroke care, has drawn bipartisan support on both sides of the Capitol. Also this session, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) introduced legislation to fund telehealth pilot programs for those residing in public housing.