- Senate lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at expanding telehealth services for Medicare patients.
- Under the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act, eligible hospitals would test telehealth services through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. CMMI would evaluate the services for cost, effectiveness and quality of care, and those that past muster would be covered throughout Medicare.
- Sponsors Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) said the goal is to increase access to care for rural patients, who often have to travel long distances to get to a hospital or clinic.
The bill would encourage development of new technologies that could lower costs and improve patient health, the sponsors said in a statement.
Research has shown that telehealth can drive significant cost savings. According to an analysis by NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, telehealth services result in annual per-facility savings of $5,718 in travel expenses and $3,431 in lost wages for patients, and $20,841 for hospitals. For rural hospitals, that figure could exceed $100,000.
Yet despite these benefits, barriers exist to more widespread adoption of telehealth. Among those are strict limitations on Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services and a mishmash of state licensing requirements for telehealth providers.
Other studies, however, have questioned telehealth’s potential to reduce costs of care. A recent study in Health Affairs suggested that while less expensive than in-patient visits, telehealth may actually raise overall healthcare costs by increasing utilization.
A growing number of health systems are offering telehealth services. With 30% of Medicare payments now tied to alternative payment models and HHS planning to raise that percentage to 50% by the end of 2018, providers are looking for ways to boost care access and quality while cutting costs. MACRA specifically mentions telehealth and remote patient monitoring as services alternative payment models may cover, even if they are not covered under traditional Medicare.
The current bill is similar to one that was introduced in the House in 2015 but did not make it any further.