Optimistic strides are being taken by the Senate Commerce Committee to enable Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services.

April 22, 2015 by Alex Ruoff

After years of pushing for higher levels of Medicare reimbursement for physicians providing telehealth services and tracking their patients’ health via remote patient monitoring tools, technology advocates say they’re finally expecting some significant wins this year.

Following a Senate Commerce Committee hearing where lawmakers said they plan to introduce legislation that would expand Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services, the head of one of the telehealth industry’s largest trade groups, the American Telemedicine Association, told me telehealth issues have garnered more support than ever in Congress.

“There is certainly greater interest in telehealth now than I have ever seen,” Jonathan Linkous, chief executive officer of the ATA, said. “I would say 10 or 15 years ago I would have been absolutely tickled if I could get a single senator to write a letter or even meet with me.”

Medicare has tight purse strings for telehealth: the program paid providers less than $12 million for telehealth services last year, according to the Robert J. Waters Center for Telehealth and e-Health Law.

Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) will later this year reintroduce the Telehealth Enhancement Act, Wicker said during the hearing. Previous versions of the bill would have authorized accountable care organizations covered by Medicare Advantage plans to be reimbursed for providing telehealth and remote patient monitoring services and expand the number of hospitals nationwide eligible to receive Medicare reimbursements for telehealth services.

Telehealth advocates said earlier this month they were pleased that the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2), better known as the bill that permanently repealed the SGR, removed some restrictions on Medicare payments for telehealth services under certain alternative payment models.

Additionally, Linkous said he expects that the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s 21st Century Cures legislation, expected to be unveiled later this month, will include “some telehealth language,” but he wasn’t sure what it would be.

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