Telehealth expansion takes a step forward with Senate’s passage of CHRONIC Care Act

Orrin Hatch
The Senate's passage of the CHRONIC Care Act, introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, marks a first step in expanding telehealth coverage. (Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lawmakers and telehealth advocates were predictably pleased with the Senate’s passage of bipartisan legislation that would extend telehealth benefits to several patient populations battling chronic illnesses.

Following another failed attempt to repeal-and-replace the Affordable Care Act, the notably bipartisan bill, Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017, unanimously passed through the Senate Floor on Wednesday.

RELATED: Senate committee advances bill that expands telehealth access for chronically ill Medicare patients

Introduced in May by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the bill would allow Medicare accountable care organizations to expand the use of telehealth, build broader telehealth benefits into Medicare Advantage plans and expand the use of virtual care for stroke and dialysis patients.

“The CHRONIC Care Act will mean more care at home and less in institutions. It will expand the use of lifesaving technology,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said on the Senate floor prior to the vote. “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. Those are all important steps forward in updating the Medicare guarantee.”

“This legislation will improve disease management, lower Medicare costs and streamline care coordination services—all without adding to the deficit,” Hatch said in a release.

RELATED: House committee passes bill to build telehealth coverage into Medicare Advantage plans

The American Heart Association was particularly pleased with the inclusion of the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act, which removes originating site requirements for telestroke services. Telestroke services have become a popular way for hospitals to expand patient access to specialists. 

The legislation, “will provide timely, high-quality stroke care to more Americans through an expansion of Medicare’s telemedicine reimbursement,” AHA President John J. Warner said in a statement urging the House to “swiftly” pass the bill.

Telehealth lobbyists told Politico they are “confident” that telehealth legislation can move through the House this year. House committees have already passed individual bills like H.R. 3727 and the FAST Act with bipartisan support.

According to a Congressional Budget Office score (PDF) released last week, HR.3727, the Increasing Telehealth Access in Medicare Act that would build telehealth coverage into Medicare Advantage plans, would increase spending in the Medicare Improvement Fund by $76 million over the next decade, but that would be offset by $80 million in savings by allowing plans to include telehealth services in their bids.