Senate and House lawmakers on Wednesday introduced bipartisan legislation that would expand the Medicare program’s use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring services and—in the process—save an estimated $1.8 billion in healthcare costs over 10 years, according to an independent assessment.

The Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act establishes telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) basic benefits in the Medicare Advantage program, as well as increases telemedicine and RPM services in community health centers and rural health clinics. The bill would also permit the use of RPM for certain patients with chronic conditions.

In addition, the CONNECT for Health Act would create a “bridge” program to help providers transition to the goals of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) and the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) by using telehealth and RPM, and allowing these services to be used by qualifying participants in alternative payment models.

The bill is sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), with companion legislation introduced in the House by Representatives Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

Rep. Gregg Harper
Rep. Gregg Harper

“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,” said Harper in a written statement. “This legislation will promote cost savings and will increase the quality of care in the Medicare program.”

Last month, healthcare consulting firm Avalere Health released an analysis of the proposed policy changes to expand Medicare reimbursement of telehealth and RPM, estimating that they would collectively decrease federal spending by $1.8 billion between fiscal year 2017 and 2026.

The American Medical Association—the nation’s largest physician group—and dozens of other industry organizations, including the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, have voiced their support for the CONNECT for Health Act.

"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 AMA President Steven J. Stack, MD. "In the end, the bill could improve health outcomes and save money.”

Similarly, HIMSS issued a statement praising the CONNECT for Health Act as a legislative measure that 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.”

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