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New Bill Seeks to Expand Medicare Reimbursement for Telemedicine

The latest bill to reach Capitol Hill would, if approved, expand the number of sites eligible for Medicare reimbursement for telemedicine services.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- A bill to expand Medicare coverage for telehealth services that has been kicked around on Capitol Hill since 2013 is once again in Congress’ hands.

U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) has re-introduced the Telehealth Enhancement Act (H.R. 3360), which – according to a summary of the 2015 version – would expand the list of healthcare sites eligible for Medicare reimbursements for telehealth to include urban critical access hospitals, sole community hospitals, home telehealth sites and counties with populations of fewer than 25,000 people. The bill, introduced on July 24, did not include text as of July 27.

Harper, whose co-sponsors on the bill are U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), first introduced the bill in 2013, then amended it in 2015.

“Telehealth saves money and helps save lives,” Thompson said when the bill was first introduced in 2013. “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.”

This latest bill is one of a growing list seeking to compel the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to expand its acceptance of telehealth. Whether any of those bills makes it to law remains to be seen, but one did receive House approval this past week and could be headed to passage later this year.

The Medicare Part B Improvement Act of 2017 (H.R. 3178), introduced July 11 by U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), would expand Medicare reimbursement to include dialysis treatments at home. The bill has moved on to the Senate and could, Politico reports, be included in the CHIP reauthorization bill that must pass in September.

Another bill rumored to be considered for that route, the FAST Act of 2017 (H.R. 1148), which seeks Medicare reimbursement for telestroke services, has not advanced at this time.

In other news, the House Veterans Affairs Committee has postponed a telemedicine roundtable that was scheduled to take place on July 27, with no make-up date announced.

While no agenda had been posted ahead of the meeting, it was expected that multistate licensing requirements for VA doctors would have been discussed.

That plays into the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act of 2017, introduced in April by Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), which would enable VA doctors to use telehealth to treat veterans no matter where they live. The bill had run into opposition from, among others, the American Medical Association. 

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