Senators reintroduce popular bill to expand coverage for telehealth, remote monitoring

The Senate side of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.
A revival of the CONNECT for Health Act aims to expand coverage for telehealth services.

A group of six senators from both sides of the aisle have reintroduced a bill designed to expand Medicare coverage for telehealth services and remote patient monitoring.

The bill (PDF), known as the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2017, was first introduced last year. At that time, Avalere Health indicated that changes to reimbursement for telehealth and remote patient monitoring could save the federal government as much as $1.8 billion over the next decade. Studies have shown telehealth can improve access to specialty services and reduce wait times in the emergency department.

The new bill offers some changes to the original, including a provision that permits the Department of Health and Human Services to issue waivers for demonstration programs and pilots. Other portions of the bill would permit telemonitoring services to be included in bundled or global payments and increase access to digital tools for patients the Medicare Advantage program.

Like last year’s bill, the updated version also focuses on improving access to specific services like mental health, stroke and home dialysis. A new study shows telemental health services have expanded rapidly but in concentrated pockets of the country. 

RELATED: Is the telehealth sector headed for a bubble?

“Telehealth is the future of health care,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “It expands access to care, lowers costs, and helps more people stay healthy. Our bipartisan bill will help change the way patients get the care they need, improving the health care system for both patients and health care providers.”

The bill has generated support from both IT and healthcare associations, including the American Medical Association, the American Telemedicine Association, the Alliance for Connected Car and HIMSS.

“We believe the CONNECT for Health Act will modernize healthcare delivery for Medicare beneficiaries by removing barriers to the use of telehealth and other healthcare technologies such as remote patient monitoring, resulting in greater access to high-quality care, improved continuity of care and better value for patients and the Medicare program,” a HIMSS statement read.

RELATED: Telehealth’s payment conundrum persists as innovation marches forward

Healthcare executives are investing heavily in telehealth technology this year because of the competitive advantage the technology offers, despite that fact that reimbursement has been an ongoing struggle. Research shows that although there has been some progress, state policy regarding Medicaid reimbursement varies widely, and providers often run up against disparate physician licensing laws.

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