CHRONIC Care Act to Get Floor Vote in Senate

The Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act is officially on the Senate calendar, adding to the momentum surrounding telehealth legislation in the 115th Congress. As first reported by CQ, the bipartisan bill, which unanimously passed the Senate Finance Committee back in May, was placed on the legislative calendar on August 3. While the precise timing of the vote is unclear (the Senate, currently in its summer recess, will likely reconvene in early September), the bill has gained broad support from telehealth advocates—in particular, for the way in which it would eliminate some of Medicare’s restrictions on reimbursement, which many 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, as it incorporates the provisions of the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act. Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) highlighted those provisions during the May Finance Committee hearing before the bill’s committee passage, noting that it would offer “enhanced flexibility to target telehealth services to Medicare patients with chronic conditions.”

For their part, provider groups have expressed support for those portions of the bill, 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 at the May hearing. 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.

The action on the CHRONIC Care Act comes at a time when lawmakers and advocates are increasingly asserting that Medicare is holding telehealth back. Bolstering their case: the April Government Accountability Office (GAO) study asserting that outdated Medicare reimbursement policies and other coverage limitations are standing in the way of wider utilization. To that end, of the numerous telehealth-related bills introduced during the 115th Congress, many specifically target Medicare restrictions. Among them: the Evidence-Based Telehealth Expansion Act, the Telehealth Enhancement Act, and the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act.

Click here to read the committee report on the legislation.

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