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Congress to Revisit Telehealth for Chronic Care Legislation

The CHRONIC Care Act of 2017 targets Medicare payment reform by, among other things, expanding telehealth for chronic care. It's part of a flurry of re-introduced bills aimed at making telemedicine and mHealth a standard of care.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Congress will get another crack at expanding telehealth for chronic care with the return of a Senate bill seeking better Medicare coverage of remote patient monitoring and telehealth programs.

The Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017, reintroduced this month by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), targets Medicare payment reform, a popular catchphrase in Washington D.C. these days. Its goal is to push Medicare costs down by improving chronic disease management services and care coordination at home.

Among other things, the proposed bill would:

  • extend for two years the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Independence at Home demonstration, which establishes home-based primary care teams for Medicare beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions, and increase the cap on the total number of participating beneficiaries from 10,000 to 15,000;
  • add the patient’s home freestanding dialysis facilities, without geographic restriction, to the list of originating sites for monthly telehealth assessments with a nephrologist, beginning in 2019, though Medicare would not provide a separate originating site payment if the service was conducted at home;
  • eliminate geographic restrictions on telestroke consultation services, beginning in 2019, though the hospital where the patient is located and the location of the physician providing the telemedicine consult would not receive separate originating site payments;
  • expand  telehealth coverage under Medicare Advantage Plan B, beginning in 2020; and
  • give Accountable Care Organizations more flexibility to use telehealth services.

The bill drew praise from the Connected Health Initiative, an offshoot of ACT | The App Association focused on advancing mHealth and connected care initiatives.

“The reintroduction of this act is a step in the right direction to incorporate telehealth solutions into the treatment of chronic illness, specifically strokes, and help Medicare leverage the use of innovative technologies to improve patient outcomes and lower medical costs,” CHI Executive Director Morgan Reed said in a statement.

“However, Congress has more to do to bring the benefits of connected health technologies to more Americans, including improving the use of remote monitoring in community health centers and rural health clinics,” Reed added.

The bill is among a group of telehealth-friendly legislation facing Congress this year, most of them reintroduced after failing to make it through legislative chambers in past years. They include the Hallways to Health Act, the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act.

Telehealth and telemedicine also figured prominently in the massive 21st Century Cures Act, the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act and the National Defense Authorization Act, all passed by Congress and signed into law. 

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