AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Legislator Introduces New Bill to Remove Medicare Telehealth Barriers

Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi has introduced legislation that seeks to remove barriers to telehealth services in Medicare. Medicare fee for service (FFS) does currently provide reimbursement for telehealth services to patients at rural area health clinics, however, current law limits telehealth reimbursement to rural areas, disallows the storage of information to physicians via electronic medical records, email and other communications technology and doesn’t reimburse telehealth services provided by physical or occupational therapists or for physicians who treat patients within their own home.

The bill, Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, attempts to broaden telehealth services across the country and offer an added opportunity to serve the needs of the elderly. The bill, which has broad bipartisan congressional support, would allow Medicare patients to use video conferencing, remote patient monitoring and technology to transfer patient data and will expand Medicare reimbursement of telehealth consultations and remote patient monitoring with fewer restrictions.

“This legislation has the potential to remove barriers to new healthcare delivery models that promote coordinated and patient-centered care. Importantly, the bill aims to maintain high standards whether a patient is seeing a physician in an office or via telemedicine,” said American Medical Association (AMA) President Steven Stack. “Telemedicine can strengthen the patient-physician relationship and improve access for patients with chronic conditions and limited access to quality care. The AMA’s guiding principles on telemedicine seek to foster innovation while promoting quality care.”

According to an analysis by the health-care consulting firm Avalere, expanded Telehealth services could save $1.8 billion dollars in medical cost over the next ten years by removing the current restrictions, and would make healthcare more available for patients who often struggle with access to the latest high quality care.

“We strongly believe in the importance of implementing processes and procedures for telemedicine. Our experience working with regional hospitals as well as enterprise level healthcare systems, has demonstrated that effectively executed telemedicine programs can drive significant value,” comments Dr. James Kiely, Partner, ACT. “In our most recent peer-reviewed article, we’ve proven that a telemedicine system can produce meaningful improvement in markers of telestroke efficiency in the face of rapid growth of a telestroke network.”

With a vastly aging population, Federal and State legislators must continue to make improvements in access to quality healthcare for Medicare patients even if it means establishing new legislation designed to govern telemedicine responsibly.



Not Yet Out of the Woods

As most Americans celebrated the New Year, our elected representatives met in Washington to approve legislation narrowly avoiding the ‘fiscal cliff.’ As part of its extensive provisions, the new legislation saved Medicare providers from an impending 2% payment reduction that would have gone into effect on January 1 and postponed spending cuts to Medicare, but only for two months. Within the terms of the agreement, negotiations on ways to cut spending are expected to resume after this period, meaning hospitals are still facing the risk of cuts triggered by uncertainty and further harm if the reduction does eventually takes effect.

While overall Medicare spending may not be affected now, hospitals are still face a long-term decrease in payments. The compromise legislation includes the “doc fix,” which negates a 26.5% decrease in Medicare payments to physicians, with hospitals bearing the brunt of financing it. The tally will come to about $15 billion over 10 years, or roughly half the total cost of the one-year fix. On top of those made by the passage of major healthcare reform in 2010, the new cuts include decreases in payout from both projected Medicare payment increases for inpatient or overnight stays and Medicaid disproportionate share payments, as well as reducing risk-adjusted payments to Medicare Advantage plans.

The kind of last-minute action taken by Congress is a reminder of the severe need to address the provider payment formula for Medicare reimbursement with a long-term solution. Short-term fixes ultimately result in a reduction of important healthcare services detrimental to both patient and provider. Until a solution is reached, hospitals simply cannot afford to cover the difference.