House Members Debut Telehealth Caucus

In the midst of a particularly busy year on the Hill for telehealth-related legislation, and as lawmakers continue to grapple with potential, controversial changes to the Affordable Care Act, a bipartisan group of House Members has reaffirmed its commitment to advancing telehealth. As Medscape first reported, longtime telehealth advocates Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) have formed the Telehealth Caucus, which will be dedicated to improving access to and quality of telehealth and remote monitoring. “Telehealth saves lives and reduces costs; it’s a win-win for both patients and providers,” said Rep. Thompson in a joint press release announcing the caucus and the legislation. He added, “The Caucus will give us a venue to collaborate with our interested colleagues to advance the delivery of care via telemedicine.”

Along with the formation of the caucus, the group announced in its press release the introduction of two key pieces of legislation: the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act, and a House version of the CONNECT for Health Act. Introduced in the Senate earlier this month, the CONNECT for Health Act would remove a number of current Medicare restrictions on telehealth and remote monitoring services, including originating site restrictions, geographic restrictions, and other limitations. It would also create a specific remote monitoring benefit for “certain high-risk/high-cost patients,” and would allow for the expansion of telemental health services. The Medicare Telehealth Parity Act, for its part, would also eliminate some of the geographic restrictions, while expanding, too, the range of providers who can receive reimbursement for providing care via telehealth; physical therapists and audiologists, among others, would be eligible under the legislation. Previously introduced in an earlier Congress, it would also provide for greater access to remote monitoring. As we’ve previously noted, Medicare has recently faced criticism for what many view as outdated restrictions on telehealth reimbursement that are standing in the way of more widespread utilization. As Rep. Welch stated in the press release, “Federal policy must keep pace with advancements in telemedicine technology.” He added, “Our caucus will strongly advocate for the expansion of cost effective and convenient telehealth services that ensure access to quality health care in rural America.”

In other legislative news, last week, as we reported at the time, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed the CHRONIC Care Act, which 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. After its successful committee passage, the legislation heads to the full Senate for a vote, with the timing of that still to be determined.

Click here for the article from Medscape on the new telehealth legislation and caucus.

Click here for the press release from Rep. Mike Thompson on the caucus and new legislation.

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