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Mississippi Pushing for Telehealth Reimbursement Reform

By Ryan Mcaskill

There have been several bills introduced in Congress that aim to improve the reimbursement rate of telehealth.

One of the states that is leading the charge to change reimbursement for telehealth services is Mississippi. While it may seem like an unlikely state to be championing technology legislation, the fact is, Mississippi has the lowest number of physicians per capita of any state. While speaking to Capitol Hill last month, Kristi Henderson, the University of Mississippi’s chief telehealth and innovation officer spoke about why the state is in the position it is.

“We have got to do things differently,” Henderson said. “While we are an unlikely state to be standing here telling you how to do it, we didn’t have any other options.”

Over the last few years, two Mississippi Congressmen - Representative Greg Harper and Senator Thad Cochran - have introduced or co-chaired bills  that will increase the reimbursement for telemedicine services.

Last July, with the help of Representative Mike Thompson of California, Harper introduced bipartisan legislation called the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2014, which puts telehealth service under Medicare on the path toward parity with in-person healthcare visits. It was not enacted

“Telehealth saves money and helps save lives,” Thompson said at the time. “By expanding telehealth services, we can make sure the best care and the best treatments are available to all Americans, no matter where they live.”

Harper added: “Telehealth is one of the most promising aspects of the healthcare field. Mississippians, Californians and people all over the country can benefit from an expansion of telehealth services.”

Currently, Harper is fronting efforts to craft additional telehealth legislation as part of the House Energy and Commerce 21st Century Cures initiative. The legislative package is intended to overhaul federal regulation of medical care which would include improved reimbursement for telehealth.

“You can have the greatest technology, which is represented in this room, but if you can’t get paid for it, what’s the motivation to use it?” Harper said. “You have to be able to get reimbursed.”

Cochran has introduced similar companion legislation along with fellow Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker. In July 2014, they introduced the Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2014, which was not enacted. It aims to expand the use of telehealth technology to improve healthcare for seniors and other patients in underserved areas. It would also increase access to the technology for Medicare beneficiaries, which would lower cost.

“Advances in technology create opportunities to improve healthcare for seniors, veterans, rural patients and people who live in medically underserved areas,” Cochran said. “This legislation is an effort to build on the progress already being made in states like Mississippi by expanding the use of telehealth technologies to better serve patients and save taxpayer dollars.”

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