The 115th Congress has been particularly prolific in their efforts to reduce legislative barriers to telemedicine, many of which have had strong bipartisan support. The following list provides a snapshot of the growing list of such proposals:
CHRONIC Care Act (April): establishes federal standards for telemedicine reimbursement
CONNECT for Health Act (March): expands telehealth services in accountable care organizations, develops programs for those with chronic conditions, and gives the HHS Department the option to lift telehealth restrictions
Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act (March): permits eligible hospitals to test more telehealth services within their facilities
Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act (February): improves access to telestroke care
As recently as last month, Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI) added to the list with his introduction of the Helping Expand Access to Rural Telehealth (HEART) Act. The HEART Act aims to improve access to telehealth services in rural areas by expanding Medicare programs for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure.
With the number of telehealth video consultations expected to grow from 19.7 million in to almost 160 million in 2020, there has been a palpable push for legislation to overcome hurdles often presented by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, especially for those living in rural parts of the country. Duffy made his case for the bill by citing the 40,000 rural Medicare beneficiaries that had at least one telemedicine consultation in 2013, as well as the potential for cost savings: between 2006 and 2009, Medicare kept $670 million and avoided 20,500 hospital readmissions by discharging chronic patients to home health services rather than traditional post-acute care models. As most eyes nervously follow the forthcoming vote for the fiercely disputed GOP health care bill in the Senate, promising strides continue to be made on the telehealth legislative front.