Legislation designed to give Medicare Advantage plans and accountable care organizations greater flexibility in providing telehealth services to patients with chronic conditions got a major boost this week from the Congressional Budget Office, which gave the Senate bill a favorable score.

Previously, the CBO has expressed concerns that changing Medicare reimbursement policy regarding telemedicine could dramatically increase healthcare spending.

However, on Tuesday the office released a preliminary cost estimate of the CHRONIC Care Act, which includes four provisions expanding telehealth coverage under Medicare: nationwide coverage for telestroke, home remote patient monitoring for dialysis therapy, enhanced telehealth coverage for ACOs, and more flexibility for telehealth coverage under Medicare Advantage plans.

“We are pleased with the reasonable and limited costs associated with the expansion of Medicare reimbursement of telemedicine, as projected by the Congressional Budget Office,” says Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, who is a longtime critic of Medicare restrictions on telehealth.

ATA said that CBO’s cost estimate concluded that the bill would not increase or decrease Medicare spending. In particular, the group noted that CBO stated in its analysis that expanding telehealth to the home for Medicare dialysis treatment would be budget neutral.

Also See: Providers rally around Medicare bill expanding telehealth services

Linkous noted that CBO has “finally acknowledged cost savings when telemedicine is implemented through value-based programs such as Medicare Advantage,” adding that the ATA hopes that these estimates “will now give Congress the courage to pass this bill and allow Medicare patients to receive the benefits that telemedicine can provide.”

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday held a scheduled mark-up of the CHRONIC Care Act, at which the legislation was unanimously approved by a roll call vote of 26-0. The bill now moves on to the Senate for passage.

According to the ATA, this CBO analysis is the first time that the office has scored telemedicine legislation since 2001. Critics of Medicare policy have often cited restrictions on reimbursement as major obstacles to ensuring access to telehealth services for patients with chronic conditions. Now, they see the CBO score as green-lighting the expansion of Medicare coverage of telemedicine.

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