House Committees Advance Key Telehealth Bills

Two House of Representatives committees this week advanced key bipartisan pieces of telehealth legislation, giving the push for expanded reimbursement additional momentum in a Congress that’s already been busy when it comes to the introduction of telehealth bills. As Fierce Healthcare first reported, two bills—the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act and the Increasing Telehealth Access in Medicare Act—cleared their respective committees of jurisdiction, and will now come before the full House for votes. While the timing of those floor votes is unclear, the committee passage served as welcome news to telehealth advocates. “Today’s unanimous committee passage of this bipartisan legislation sends a powerful message that Congress is united in embracing the transformative potential of telehealth,” Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White said in a statement following the passage of the Increasing Telehealth Access in Medicare Act.

The FAST Act, which passed the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on health this week, was introduced by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), and seeks to expand access to telestroke care. Specifically, it would remove Medicare’s current geographic restrictions on reimbursement for telestroke services, which are limited to patients located in rural areas. The FAST Act has also gathered momentum over on the Senate side, where Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced a version of the bill earlier this year. Notably, provisions from the bill were included in the version of the CHRONIC Care Act that passed the Senate Finance Committee this spring and is slated for a floor vote at some point this session; that bill is aimed at improving care for Medicare beneficiaries with chronic conditions.

For its part, the Increasing Telehealth Access in Medicare Act would make telehealth care a “basic benefit” for those enrolled in Medicare Advantage. The legislation, introduced just this past week, unanimously passed the House Ways and Means Committee. Two of the bill’s lead sponsors, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), are longtime telehealth champions, as well as two co-chairs of the bipartisan Telehealth Caucus. Thompson, who along with Black sits on the Ways and Means Committee, praised the bill’s passage in a statement. “This bill would give Medicare Advantage plans the ability to deliver services to their enrollees via telehealth by adding these services as a basic benefit,” he said. “It’s past time for Congress to come the conclusion that California reached long ago: telehealth saves money, and it saves lives by making health care services and providers more accessible.”

Click here to read the Fierce Healthcare article on the committee passage of telehealth legislation.

Click here to read the statement from Rep. Mike Thompson on the committee passage of telehealth legislation. 

 

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