House passes opioid bill to expand telehealth, e-prescribing

The House of Representatives on Friday passed legislation that would expand access to treatment via telehealth in the Medicare program and require electronic prescribing for controlled substances within Medicare’s prescription drug program—with certain exceptions.

The Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6), sponsored by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), now moves on to the Senate for consideration.

The House passage of the bill was applauded by Health IT Now, a coalition of patient groups, provider organizations, employers and payers, which launched the Opioid Safety Alliance in January—along with IBM, Intermountain Healthcare, McKesson, Oracle and Walgreens—to advance a health IT-centric policy agenda to combat the problem of opioids.

“With passage of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, members of Congress have coalesced around bold, actionable solutions to bring technology to bear in solving this devastating opioid epidemic,” said HITN Opioid Safety Alliance Executive Director Joel White, who contends that the bill “will remove bureaucratic barriers to vital telehealth services for those suffering from addiction, while also modernizing prescribing practices for controlled substances within Medicare Part D to ensure optimal safety for patients and better record keeping for providers.”

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President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

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“These solutions can make a world of difference both in dollars saved and, more importantly, lives spared,” observed White.

According to the HITN Opioid Safety Alliance, requiring electronic prescribing for controlled substances within Medicare’s prescription drug program could save taxpayers $13 billion over the next 10 years, while reducing total national health expenditures—which include costs to states and private payers—by $22 billion over that same decade.

“We still have much work to do when it comes to fully leveraging technology and data to heal from this public health crisis—including the enactment of a Prescription Safety Alert System to thwart opioid misuse in real time and capture transactions that occur across state lines—but the House has done laudable work, and now, it is incumbent on the Senate to quickly follow its lead,” added White.

Likewise, the American Hospital Association praised the House passage of H.R. 6.

“We are pleased to see overwhelming support for provisions that would expand the use of telehealth services for substance use disorder,” said Tom Nickels, AHA’s executive vice president. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Senate to enact these provisions and further refine other elements of opioid legislation moving through Congress.”

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