With several proposed pieces of legislation introduced in both the House and Senate, momentum appears to be growing in Congress to expand federal support for telemedicine, according to the American Telemedicine Association. 

“Such action is unprecedented in the 22 years that ATA has been working with Congress,” said Jonathan Linkous, CEO of ATA.  “These actions signify how the nation is poised to embrace the use of telecommunications in the delivery of care.  This is one more step in fulfilling ATA’s mission to improve quality, access, equity and affordability of healthcare.”

Also See: CMS Expands Telehealth Coverage under New ACO Model

According to ATA, Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) recently introduced the Telehealth Enhancement Act, H.R. 2066, which seeks to strengthen Medicare, Medicaid and federal telecommunications programs through expanded telemedicine coverage. A companion bill to H.R. 2066 in the Senate will soon be introduced by Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

ATA has publicly endorsed the Telehealth Enhancement Act. Linkous testified before an April 21 Senate subcommittee hearing that private payers in about 25 states are now mandated to reimburse and Medicaid programs in about 45 states reimburse for telehealth services. “The one holdout, the one laggard, the one late adopter of the technology is Medicare,” he said.

In addition, ATA says that Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) will soon introduce the Medicare Parity Act, which has strong bipartisan support, and is designed to remove restrictions to telemedicine in Medicare and require parity with in-office visits.

And, last week the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a discussion draft of its “21st Century Cures” bill, which specifically mentions telemedicine but is short on specifics. “Our committee members continue working on two crucial policies, interoperability and telemedicine, that will be included in the final package,” states the draft. “The committee anticipates the release of draft legislative language in both of these areas shortly.”

As the draft reveals, the Energy and Commerce Bipartisan Telemedicine Member Working Group has been working to find a solution that “has plagued Congress and our health system” for decades, namely “how to adopt new technologies into our delivery system in ways that promote greater quality care and fiscal integrity.”

Results of the 26th annual HIMSS Leadership Survey released at last month’s HIMSS15 conference in Chicago indicates that telehealth initiatives are growing in importance at healthcare organizations. Nearly half (49 percent) of 330 respondents indicated that their organizations used telemedicine strategies, defined as those that offer real-time interactions between clinicians and patients.

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