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Telehealth News

21st Century Cures Initiative gets Started in Washington

By Ryan Mcaskill

Lawmakers are opening up the conversation about new healthcare solutions including mobile technology and telehealth.

On January 27, the Energy & Commerce Committee of the United States House of Representatives released a discussion document on the 21st Century Cures initiative. This is a comprehensive look by politicians into ways to accelerate scientific knowledge, improve the drug and device development process and embrace digital medicine into the treatment delivery process.

The discussion around the initiative, using the hashtag #Cures2015) has only just started and it is expected to last several months. There will be four Washington, D.C. roundtables, eight hearings, 15 local roundtables and five white papers.

“15 years into the 21st Century, the time for 21st Century Cures is now. Throughout this initiative, we have done things differently. We have been bipartisan from the get-go, we spent a year listening and asking questions, and we have been fully transparent at every step. Transparency and collaboration have been and will continue to be the hallmarks that drive our success,” committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), said in a statement.

Upton added that this is an important first step on the legislation process. The document is far from being a final product and the the discussions and roundtables are designed to spark conversation from industry experts to help shape future legislation.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) is one of many organizations that has released a statement of its own about the initiative. It specifically geared its statement toward the use of telehealth. Technology comes up throughout the initiative and one of the subtitles focuses on telemedicine.

The letter starts off praising the Energy & Commerce Committee telehealth working group for “recognizing the need to modernize Medicare’s approach to telehealth and seeking stakeholder comment on this issue.”

The AHA points out that Medicare is behind state Medicaid and the private sector when it comes to managing telehealth systems which included reimbursement rates and a limited access to the technology for some beneficiaries.

The letter points to four specific areas that the committee and future legislation needs to focus on. These include geographic restrictions, covering services, originating site for patient location and approving new technologies. Some of this is discussed in the discussion document, but they need to be a focus if telehealth is going to be successful.

“In conclusion, the AHA strongly agrees with your goal of expanding coverage of telehealth services in Medicare, and appreciates the specification of a mechanism for doing so,” the letter ends. “However, given the growing body of evidence that telehealth increases quality, improves patient satisfaction and reduces costs, we believe a more global approach to expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth is warranted.”

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