Telehealth bill would extend Medicare coverage to underserved areas

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate would expand telehealth coverage for Medicare beneficiaries and other patients in underserved areas, according to an announcement from Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, one of its sponsors.

The "Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2014" (S.2662) is a companion bill to the House version (HR.3306).

S.2662 would waive statutory Medicare restrictions on telehealth services, including adjusting Medicare home health payments and giving patients access to nearby services through remote monitoring technology. It would extend telehealth coverage to critical access and sole-community hospitals regardless of metropolitan status. In some cases, more home-based video services for hospice care, home dialysis and homebound seniors would be covered.

It also would allow states to offer Medicaid coverage for telehealth services for women with high-risk pregnancies through birthing networks in which medical providers would treat conditions such as gestational diabetes and hypertension.

The Telehealth Enhancement Act has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. Its companion bill is pending in the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. HR.3306 has 20 bipartisan co-sponsors. Cochran and his co-sponsor, fellow Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, also plan to seek bipartisan support.

"S. 2662 includes several provisions that may see significant budget savings, and build on recent payment innovations such as accountable care organizations and other incremental budget-sensitive proposals. These bills are instrumental in demonstrating widespread congressional support and in prompting the Congressional Budget Office to provide a budget estimate," the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) said in a statement lauding the bill.

A similar House bill the "Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2014" would expand reimbursement for managing chronic health conditions including congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also has drawn praise for making telemedicine a prominent part of its planned $16.3 billion overhaul.

To learn more:
- here's Cochran's announcement
- read the ATA statement

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