- Medicare payments for telehealth rose 28% in 2016, due to an increase in providers offering remote services with their traditional fee-for-service beneficiaries, The National Law Review reports.
- Total payments were $28,748,210, up from $22,449,968 the previous year. The number of telehealth claims also grew — from 372,518 in 2015 to 496,396 last year, a change of 33%.
- Notable was the increase in originating site claims. Prior to 2015, about half of all distant site claims lacked a corresponding originating site claim. In 2016, two-thirds of distant site claims included a corresponding originating site claim, NLR says.
While attesting to the growing use of telehealth, the 2016 Medicare payments are a drop in the bucket compared to the program’s roughly $600 billion overall budget. Still, that percentage is likely to keep growing as patients warm to the technology and providers find the best circumstances for using it.
One area of focus is bringing more care to areas with limited access. In April, Senate lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at expanding telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries in rural and underserved areas. Under the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act, eligible hospitals would test telehealth services through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. The center would assess the cost, effectiveness and quality of care of those services and Medicare would pay for those that pass muster.
Telehealth in general is becoming more mainstream. According to a recent Reach Health survey, 36% of hospitals and integrated health systems reported having an enterprise approach to telehealth and 25% said they are transitioning from a departmental to enterprise approach. Patient experience was the key motivation for telehealth objectives, though reducing costs was also ranked high.
That seems apt as organizations shift to value-based care. With HHS calling for 50% of Medicare payments to be tied to alternative payment models by the end of 2018, providers are looking for ways to enhance patient care and access while holding down costs. Telehealth often fits that bill.
Telehealth services account for annual per-facility savings of $5,718 in travel expenses and $3,431 in lost wages for patients, as well as $20,841 in cost savings for hospitals, according to an NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association analysis. Telehealth also brings added revenues to local labs and pharmacies.
Still, barriers to more widespread use remain. For example, differences in state laws can make it hard for providers to offer services in more than one state. Patient privacy protections are another challenge, as is the cost of the technology. A video conferencing suite costs between $15,000 and $20,000.