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Virtual Care Advancement | Outlook on CHRONIC Care Act and Other Federal Legislation

The Senate’s unanimous passage of the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017 (S.870) on September 26th is an encouraging step forward for modernizing telehealth access and reimbursement. The bipartisan, budget-neutral bill aims to improve health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries living with chronic conditions and includes key provisions expanding access to telehealth. A summary of the key telehealth provisions under the CHRONIC Care Act can be found here.

The bill now moves to the House Subcommittee on Health and may be adopted in its current form or integrated into existing House bills. The House has already advanced three separate bills this year with telehealth provisions similar to those included in the CHRONIC Care Act: expanding telehealth services under Medicare Advantage (HR 3727), expanding telehealth for stroke patients (HR 1148), and expanding the use of telehealth to facilitate the use of home dialysis (HR 3178). With seemingly aligned goals between the two chambers, the House may accept the remaining provisions of the CHRONIC Care Act, or negotiate minor changes and incorporate the CHRONIC Care Act into another priority health care related bill, such as extending federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as a vehicle for passage this calendar year.

The recent momentum of federal legislation focused on expanding telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries signals Congress’ continued consideration of telehealth’s ability to improve patient health and lower the costs of health care delivery. In light of this increased legislative activity, health care providers, commercial payers and telehealth technology companies should be mindful of the following.

  • Consider developing or participating in studies designed to test the efficacy and efficiency (including costs) of telemedicine programs.
  • Continue exploring ways to tailor their care delivery and revenue models to provide telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries.
  • Offer Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and MedPAC insights and guidance on ways to provide the Federal government agencies overseeing Medicare coverage and payment for telehealth services the best available industry information.
  • Focus operational goals to achieve cost and value goals that are of concern to the government.



More Federal Legislation Aimed at Expanding Medicare Coverage of Telehealth Services

Late last month, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced Senate Bill 787, the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act (Telehealth Improvement Act), which is focused on expanding Medicare’s currently limited coverage of telehealth services and opportunities for innovation.

The Telehealth Improvement Act would require the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to test the effect of including telehealth services in Medicare health care delivery reform models. More specifically, the Act would require CMMI to assess telehealth models for effectiveness, cost and quality improvement, and if the telehealth model meets these criteria, then the model will be covered through the Medicare program. (more…)




Commercial Insurers Urge Congressional Budget Office to Consider their Telemedicine Data

In hopes of expanding reimbursement opportunities for telemedicine services in the Medicare program, representatives of eleven payers, including Aetna, Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, Cambia Health Solutions and Humana, asked CBO director Keith Hall in a public letter to consider their data when evaluating the impact of Medicare coverage of telemedicine services.

Medicare reimbursement for telemedicine is currently limited to very narrow set of circumstances. Section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act provides that telehealth services are covered only if the Medicare patient is seen: (a) at an approved “originating site” (e.g., physician offices, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities) that is located within a rural Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) that is either outside of a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) or in a rural census tract, or a county outside of a MSA; (b) by an approved provider (e.g., physicians, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists); (c) for a defined set of services, including consultations, office visits, pharmacological management, and individual and group diabetes self-management training services; and (d) using certain telecommunications technologies.

There are bipartisan efforts currently underway to expand Medicare reimbursement for telemedicine services by easing or eliminating some of these requirements. One example is the CONNECT for Health Act. Because coverage of telemedicine services in Medicare’s fee-for-service program is limited, there is limited Medicare data available for the CBO to consider when reviewing the potential financial impact of such legislation. In light of this lack of data, the insurers advise that the CBO should consider the effects that telemedicine’s expansion in the commercial market. The insurers’ letter to the CBO also points out that new alternative, quality-based payment models rely upon telemedicine as a means of meeting certain performance measures, and other government agencies, such as the US Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration, are using telemedicine services to provide better quality care.

Earlier this year, the CBO and MedPAC received a letter from over 20 different health care providers similarly urging it to consider alternative data sources, such as data from the commercial sector, when analyzing the costs and benefits associated with the use of telemedicine in the Medicare program.




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