Passage of the government spending bill to end the recent shutdown includes support for telehealth and technology-enabled healthcare services for providers and Medicare patients in the form of the CHRONIC Care Act.
A new spending bill that will impact health technology and chronic care in America was signed into law after being passed by both Congress and the House of Representatives in the early hours last Friday morning to end the recent government shutdown.
The bill increases the budget cap for both military and domestic items by over $300 billion, which includes healthcare priorities like telemedicine and telehealth as well.
Specific provisions that offered support for telehealth benefits for Medicare patients and providers were also included in the bill. Notably included was the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017, which has finally been green lit after being passed by the Senate in 2017.
When it passed unanimously in the Senate, Senator Ron Wyden of the Senate Finance Committee, said, “Medicare policy cannot stand idly by while the needs of people in the program shift to managing multiple costly chronic diseases. This bill provides new options and tools for seniors and their doctors to coordinate care and makes it less burdensome to stay healthy.”
With support from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), the CHRONIC Care Act aims to make it easier for healthcare providers and Medicare patients, especially those with chronic conditions, to benefit from telehealth policies. Many providers view telehealth services as a way to add convenience to the patient experience by offering flexibility and expanded access to healthcare services, even for patients in rural locations or with limited transportation options like those served by RHCs and FQHCs.
There are a number of existing barriers to provider reimbursement for and Medicare patient use of telehealth services, including restrictions regarding eligible clinic sites and what some consider to be overly burdensome reporting requirements.
CHI Executive Director Morgan Reed wrote, “A strong and growing body of evidence has clearly demonstrated that the wide array of connected health technologies available today improve patient care, reduce hospitalizations, help avoid complications, and improve patient engagement, particularly for the chronically ill. Further, the integration of these connected health technologies has been proven to reduce healthcare costs significantly.”
“These advanced products and services present the ability to improve research and bring about the faster development of new therapies and cures and to improve meaningfully the lives of the American populations most in need today, such as veterans and those who live in rural areas. A 21st-century healthcare system must integrate and embrace these innovative technologies to improve patient care and lower costs.”
The passage of the CHRONIC Care Act acknowledges the benefits of telehealth and connected care initiatives by beginning to attempt to remove or diminish some of the roadblocks to more widespread adoption of telehealth services.
Telehealth also received other support in the bill, including:
- Placement of delivery of telehealth services under the umbrella of basic benefits available with Medicare Advantage plans, through the Increasing Telehealth Access in Medicare Act
- Expansion of use of telehealth services for individuals with stroke and Medicare beneficiaries who receive home dialysis therapy
- Amendment of the Social Security Act and Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in order to remove the requirement for “more stringent measures for the meaningful use of electronic health records by providers”
- Provision of accountable care organizations (ACOs) with the ability to take advantage of telehealth and telemedicine more easily and effectively
"The idea with ACOs is there's more flexibility to use these telehealth technologies to better coordinate care, to better monitor patients after they've left the hospital," said Robert Tennant, director of health information technology policy for the Medical Group Management Association, in an article in Modern Healthcare. "This is recognition that telehealth is an increasingly important component of the healthcare delivery system."
Passage of the CHRONIC Care Act in the new spending bill is being celebrated as a success for the growth of telehealth in the future by many healthcare organizations and providers.
“This bill is a win for patients and providers who depend on a competitive, 21st Century Medicare program that allows beneficiaries to tap into the technology of today to improve their wellbeing tomorrow. For too long, Medicare has lagged behind other health payers in covering and reimbursing telehealth services. These reforms are the beginning of a much-needed shift that will pay dividends in better healthcare outcomes and reduced costs,” said Joel Wright, executive director of Health IT Now, a broad-based coalition of patient groups, provider organizations, employers, and payers.
Samantha Burch, senior director of congressional affairs for HIMSS, said the chronic care provisions included in the spending bill will benefit telehealth, Medicare and care coordination in general. “We’ve been huge supporters of the CHRONIC care act. Getting that bill over the finish line is an important first step. There’s all of this momentum around health IT on Capitol Hill, but it’s been incredibly hard to get bills across the finish line and signed into law.”
“This is really the first time that we’re seeing a complete package that would expand telehealth access to Medicare beneficiaries. It’s an incredible step forward.”
ACT’s CHI applauded the CHRONIC Care Act, but also said more needs to be done in support of extending availability of health technology benefits to individuals with chronic conditions or extensive health needs, such as passage of the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act.
CHI’s Reed wrote, “Congress has a historic opportunity to make the American healthcare system the greatest in the world by leveraging the wide array of connected health technologies available today, as well as paving the way for future innovations, through the CHRONIC Care Act.”
Telehealth and telemedicine saw other recent victories with language in the Physician Fee Schedule for 2018 that promoted better reimbursement for remote patient monitoring and introduced telehealth CPT codes.
For more information on increasing Medicare reimbursements for your chronic care and telehealth initiatives, call us at 800-501-2984 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.