Buried in last week's budget deal: Big changes for telehealth in Medicare

Industry stakeholders are praising a telemedicine bill included in Congress' recently enacted spending package (HR 1892), saying the measure will improve access to telemedicine services for Medicare beneficiaries, Rachel Arndt writes for Modern Healthcare.

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Congress last week included the Senate-passed Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017 in a broader legislative package that funds the federal government through March 23 and raises 2018 and 2019 budget caps for defense and domestic programs. President Trump signed the package into law Friday.

About the CHRONIC Care Act

The CHRONIC Care Act revises Medicare payment policies to expand telemedicine coverage for beneficiaries with chronic conditions, as well as those presenting with stroke symptoms.

For instance, under the new law, providers as of Jan. 1, 2019, will be able to bill Medicare for a neurological consult via telehealth. The law eliminates the current geographic restriction that limits telehealth stroke services to rural areas.

The law beginning in 2020 also allows Medicare ACOs to expand the use of telehealth. Under the law, Medicare Advantage (MA) plans also will be able to offer telemedicine services as supplemental benefits to beneficiaries with chronic conditions. HHS under the law is required to solicit public comment by Nov. 30 on the types of telehealth services that could be covered by MA plans.

The CHRONIC Care Act also:

  • Extends by two years and expands by 5,000 enrollees CMS' Independence at Home demonstration program, which allows medical practices to deliver comprehensive primary care services at beneficiaries' homes; and
  • Permanently extends the MA Special Needs program for beneficiaries who are chronically ill.

Praise from industry stakeholders

Industry stakeholders praised the CHRONIC Care Act's enactment, but said more needs to be done to expand access to telehealth services.

Roy Schoenberg, CEO of the telemedicine company American Well, said the law "is a first step to mak[ing] health care less painful by embracing modern technology."

Robert Tennant, director of health information technology policy at the Medical Group Management Association, said the law is "recognition that telehealth is an increasingly important component of the health care delivery system." However, Tennant said the next step is for commercial payers to expand their reimbursement for telemedicine. "Medicare is an enormously important payer, but they're not the only one," he said (Arndt, Modern Healthcare, 2/9; HR 1892 legislative text, accessed 2/13).

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