Senate unanimously passes bill expanding Medicare telehealth services

Register now

The Senate has unanimously passed the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017, which expands access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries living with illnesses like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

“The CHRONIC Care Act will mean more care at home and less in institutions,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. “It’ll expand the use of life-saving technology. It places a stronger focus on primary care. It gives seniors—however they get Medicare—more tools and options to receive care specifically targeted to address their chronic illnesses and keep them healthy.”

The legislation expands the number of originating sites from which Medicare beneficiaries can have a telehealth assessment with a nephrologist, including freestanding dialysis facilities and the patient’s home, while allowing these telehealth visits to be conducted from the expanded list of sites without restrictions because of geography.

“Specifically, it would eliminate the geographic restriction as to permit payment to a physician furnishing the telehealth consultation service in all areas of the country,” states the bill. “The hospital at which the patient is present and the telehealth consultation is initiated would not receive a separate, originating site payment.”

In addition, under provisions of the CHRONIC Care Act, patients presenting with stroke symptoms would see expanded access to telehealth beginning in 2019 and receive a “timely consultation to determine the best course of treatment” via telehealth.

“We commend and congratulate the sponsors of the bill, which will go far in improving the lives of Medicare beneficiaries struggling with cardiovascular disease,” said John Warner, MD, president of the American Heart Association. “Included in this successful Senate legislation was the ‘Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine,’ or the FAST Act, which will provide timely, high quality stroke care to more Americans through an expansion of Medicare’s telemedicine reimbursement.”

Also See: Providers rally around Medicare bill expanding telehealth services

“As more Baby Boomers age into Medicare, they will continue to wrestle with the overwhelming burden of heart disease and stroke,” Warner added. “Legislation like the FAST Act will help us fight back against this trend by improving care management and reducing Medicare costs. We urge the House to join the Senate in swiftly passing the FAST Act so that more Americans who are struck by a stroke can get immediate treatment through telestroke and recover without the struggle of disability.”

Starting in 2020, the bill also allows Medicare Advantage plans to offer additional telehealth benefits in their annual bid amount beyond the services that currently receive payment under Part B.

“An MA plan may provide basic telehealth benefits as part of the standard benefit; for example, telemonitoring and web-based and phone technologies can be used to provide telehealth services,” states the legislation. “Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug may choose to include telehealth services as part of their plan benefits, for instance, in providing medication therapy management.”

However, at the same time, the bill makes it clear that those services and technologies are “not separately paid for by Medicare and plans must use their rebate dollars to pay for those services as a supplemental benefit.”

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.