In the Senate, it is the best of times. Last week, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) noted the importance of modernizing Medicare payment models to “unleash the full potential of telehealth” during a subcommittee hearing. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) signaled his intent to reintroduce legislation that would accomplish just that.
In the House, it was…well, not the best of times. Leaders of the Energy & Commerce Committee continue debate on the 21st Century Cures Initiative, a mammoth bill designed to accelerate the pace of medical discovery and embrace technology. Still, House leaders indicated telehealth modernization language will not be included in the draft bill. Odd.
This debate is important for a couple of reasons. First, telehealth is a proven solution to help address lots of health care problems at once – an aging population, increasing costs, doctor shortages, etc. And missing any chance to usher in the telehealth age denies tremendous benefits to Americans. I believe telehealth is to health care what the telegraph was to the Pony Express. It is that revolutionary.
Second, Medicare is behind the curve in payment policies. Telehealth offers obvious cost advantages over other systems of health care delivery. Senator Schatz is correct when he says the full potential of telehealth has yet to be realized. The Department of Veterans Affairs has widely embraced telehealth technology, and it’s time we allowed more application than is currently allowed in the Medicare system. Telehealth continues to expand in the under-65 patient population, and there is no reason why seniors shouldn’t be able to take advantage of telehealth as well.
Finally, private insurers will generally follow the lead set by Medicare when determining payment policies. Insurers have found there is substantial benefit (and reduced costs) associated with covering telehealth services. I’m surprised the federal government is giving the cold shoulder to methods proven to reduce healthcare expenditures.
The good news is that the 21st Century Cures legislation has not yet been formally introduced and a new draft should be released this week. Only time will tell if the House has found the age of wisdom or the age of foolishness.