Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) is among a growing chorus of U.S. senators that has called for greater federal investment in telehealth technologies and regulatory changes that can help improve access to vital healthcare services for people, especially the elderly, in rural states.
Today, regulatory uncertainty and a patchwork of inconsistent reimbursement rules and rates hampers the implementation of telemedicine and its great potential to improve the delivery of health care in rural areas, said King in a written statement. Modernizing payment models and federal programs to align with improvements in high speed Internet and the development of related technologies would bring greater efficiency to the health care system and promote the growth of telemedicine.
King recently joined the Health Information and Management Systems Societys Capitol Hill Steering Committee on Telehealth and Healthcare Informatics. The Steering Committee is supported by more than 40 healthcare and health IT organizations.
Last week, 21 organizations sent letters of support to the House and Senate sponsors of the TELEmedicine for MEDicare (TELE-MED) Act of 2015. The bill would enable a Medicare participating physician or practitioner to provide services to a Medicare beneficiary across state lines without being licensed in that patients state as long as the provider is licensed or authorized to provide that service in their own state.
Currently, the use of telehealth is artificially restricted by Medicare and different state licensure laws, state the letters to TELE-MED Act sponsors Reps. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) as well as Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). Patients are forced to travel often long distances to receive care from a health professional or to forgo care altogether, when study after study demonstrates the cost saving and health improving benefits of telehealth and remote patient monitoring.
The organizations, including the American Health Information Management Association, American Telemedicine Association, and College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, called the legislation a strong step towards better access, quality, and more affordable care via telehealth.
Likewise, earlier this month, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced a bill to make skilled nursing facilities eligible for the Universal Service Funds Rural Health Care Program (RHCP), which provides funding for telecommunications and broadband services to rural communities. Currently, SNFs are not included in the Communications Act as eligible providers to receive financial support from the RHCP administered by the Federal Communications Commission.
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