More than half of Medicare patients don't know whether they have telehealth benefits
- A new survey by HealthMine shows 57% of Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older don’t know whether their health plan offers telehealth. Another 31% say the option is not available to them.
- In the same survey, 48% of Medicare members were not sure whether their plan provided digital access to their personal health records and 21% said it did not. One fourth said they could easily access those records.
- Bryce Williams, president and CEO of HealthMine, said the hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida highlighted the need for people to be digitally connected to their health. “We are working hand-in-hand with health plans to accelerate digital processes and analytics,” he said in a statement.
Despite what the survey found, telehealth use seems to be growing among the elderly. In 2016, Medicare payments for telehealth rose 28% to $28.7 million, according to the National Law Review. The increase was due to more providers offering virtual services with traditional fee-for-service enrollees. Still, that’s just a fraction of Medicare’s roughly $600 billion overall budget.
Policymakers and commercial payers are working to keep telemedicine from leaving out the key demographic of elderly patients.
Lawmakers in the Senate have introduced bipartisan legislation that would expand telehealth services for Medicare patients. Under the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act, qualifying hospitals would pilot telehealth services through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). Medicare would cover the services if they met CMMI benchmarks for cost, effectiveness and quality.
The bill (S. 787) would encourage development of new technologies that could lower costs and enhance patients’ health, sponsoring Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said at the time. It has been referred to the finance committee.
Last week, House committees approved two telehealth bills. One would make telehealth a core benefit of Medicare Advantage plans and the other would expand telestroke coverage for Medicare patients.
Momentum to increase telehealth access has picked up with the trend toward value-based care and population health. And as baby boomers swell the ranks of Medicare beneficiaries, policymakers and families alike are looking to telehealth and other smart technologies to help the elderly age in their homes.
Private insurance companies also see an opportunity. Humana has piloted telehealth services for Medicare Advantage enrollees in a number of states with the goal of reducing unnecessary emergency room visits. Other payers like WellCare are also testing the option with Medicare patients.