CHRONIC Care Act Gets Hearing, Markup

The Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act seems to have gotten one step closer to passage in the Senate. As first reported by Health Data Management, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the bipartisan legislation this week; the legislation then passed the committee unanimously on Thursday. During the hearing, senators heard testimony from health care providers and administrators who voiced their support for the bill—in particular, for the way in which it would eliminate some of Medicare’s restrictions on reimbursement, which some have recently argued are holding telehealth back.

As we noted when it was introduced, the bill is aimed at improving the quality of care for high-cost patients with chronic conditions who are enrolled in Medicare. It includes key telehealth provisions, such as 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. Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) highlighted those provisions during his opening statement at the hearing, noting that it would offer “enhanced flexibility to target telehealth services to Medicare patients with chronic conditions.”

For their part, provider groups expressed support for those provisions, noting that they would benefit patients in underserved communities throughout the country. “To serve our urban and rural populations faced with challenges of getting to office appointments, telehealth technology can be a successful alternative to being there,” said Montefiore Health System’s Stephen Rosenthal. Senators and witnesses were also optimistic about the telestroke provisions of the bill; while Hatch praised the work of Utah health care organizations who have been utilizing the technologies, Harvard Medical School’s Lee Schwamm noted that the expansion of originating sites was sorely needed to expand access to care: “The current Medicare policy of limiting coverage for telehealth services to those patients originating in only rural areas has hampered the development of sufficient telestroke coverage,” he told the committee.

In other, related news from the Capitol, a group of Democratic senators this week also expressed concern about the cuts to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funding in President Trump’s FY 2018 budget blueprint, asserting that it would hamper the agency’s efforts to implement the 21st Century Cures Act, signed into law at the end of 2016. Among the provisions that worried them: lack of funding for the agency’s health IT-related programs authorized through Cures. “The Office of the National Coordinator and the Office of the Inspector General require adequate funding to accomplish the important objectives established in the 21st Century Cures Act, in addition to the critical work they already do to promote the use of interoperable HIT in improving health care quality and efficiency,” the senators wrote in a letter to the president.

Click here for the article from Health Data Management on the CHRONIC Care Act hearing.

Click here for a statement from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch.

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