Telehealth key to CMS rural health project

Telehealth will be a key part of a federal project beginning this month that aims to increase care access for Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Thursday.

Ten critical access hospitals in Montana, Nevada and North Dakota will participate in the three-year effort, the Frontier Community Health Integration Project (FCHIP) Demonstration, which was launched by the CMS Innovation Center. Participants will be receive incentives for care coordination efforts that help to cut both unnecessary hospital admissions and readmissions.

Six of the 10 participating sites will test telehealth interventions solely. A seventh facility will test telehealth interventions, as well as skilled nursing facility/nursing facility bed interventions; an eighth will test both of those interventions, as well as one for ambulance services.

For facilities testing telehealth, CMS will pay CAH originating sites at 101 percent of the cost for overhead, salaries, fringe benefits and the depreciation value of equipment used, as opposed to the current fixed facility fee. Fees paid to distant sites, however, will remain at their current levels.

“The goal of the FCHIP Demonstration is to test whether enhanced payments for certain services will enhance access to care for patients, increase the integration and coordination of care among providers within the community, and reduce avoidable hospitalizations, admissions and transfers, therefore improving the quality of care for Medicare beneficiaries and lowering costs,” CMS says in a fact sheet. “A specific objective is to support the CAH and local delivery system in keeping patients within the community who might otherwise be transferred to distant providers.”

The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, which is partnering with CMS on the initiative, must submit an interim evaluation report within two years of the start of the demonstration, as well as a final evaluation report within one year of the project’s end.

FCHIP is mandated by Congress as part of the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008.

To learn more:
- read the CMS announcement
- here’s the accompanying fact sheet
- check out the home page for the demonstration