News Feature | February 10, 2016

CONNECT Bill Would Extend Telehealth Services Via Medicare

Christine Kern

By Christine Kerncontributing writer

Telehealth Superior To Inconvenient Office Visits

The bipartisan bill would help providers meet the goals of MACRA with telehealth options.

A new bipartisan bill, Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, would expand telehealth services through Medicare. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Thad Cochran (MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), John Thune (R- SD), and Mark Warner (D-VA), would make it easier for patients to connect with healthcare providers and help reduce costs for patients and providers, according to a press release.

“Telehealth is the future of healthcare. It saves money and improves health outcomes,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bipartisan bill puts us on a path to transform healthcare delivery, making it less costly and more convenient for patients and providers.” The telehealth market, according to Ken Research, is expected to reach $38.5 billion in revenue by 2018, as reported by The Institute for HealthCare Consumerism

The legislation would help providers meet the goals of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) through telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM); expand RPM for certain patients with chronic conditions; increase telehealth in community health centers and rural health clinics; and make telehealth and RPM basic benefits of Medicare Advantage. “Greater use of technology to connect patients and doctors will benefit both with better outcomes, as well more timely and efficient use of resources,”said Senator Cardin.

According to a recent Avalere study, the legislation would save Medicare $1.8 billion over 10 years.The new bill is backed by more than 50 organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA). 

“This bill would ensure that patients and their physicians are able to use new technologies that remove barriers to timely quality care,” AMA president Dr. Steven Stack said. “Importantly, the bill would maintain high standards whether a patient is seeing a physician in an office or via telemedicine. We look forward to working with other supporters to advance the legislation in Congress.” 

Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association also supported the initiative, stating,“We salute the leadership and dedication Sen. Brian Schatz has shown in expanding the use of telemedicine in Medicare to increase quality healthcare options and availability at more affordable rates. It’s a clear ‘win-win’ for the American people and helps to bridge the 21st century technology gap between policy and better healthcare options.”

HIMSS also issued a statement supporting the legislation, stating,“We believe the CONNECT for Health Act will modernize healthcare delivery for Medicare beneficiaries by removing barriers to the use of telehealth and other healthcare technologies, resulting in greater access to high-quality care, improved continuity of care and better value for patients and the Medicare program. HIMSS appreciates the strong bipartisan commitment to advancing the use of innovative technologies in healthcare, and we look forward to continuing to work in partnership to enact these critical reforms.”

Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by U.S. Representatives Diane Black (R-TN), Peter Welch (D-VT.), and Gregg Harper (R-MS).Representative Harper stated:“Telehealth and Remote Patient Monitoring are incredibly promising technologies, but until we give providers the ability to transition and meet the goals set forth in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, Medicare patients will continue to struggle to take part in these advancements. This legislation will promote cost savings and will increase the quality of care in the Medicare program.”