What's next for telemedicine?

Dec. 12, 2016
While traditionally thought of as an issue supported by congressional Democrats, congressional Republicans are increasingly warming to telemedicine as a means to provide health care. Additionally, “Donald Trump has indicated his support of utilizing telemedicine to increase access to care for veterans,” Mathy said. “We’re now seeing more bipartisan work on this issue. The question of whether or not legislation on telemedicine will garner Republican support boils down to cost and budget neutrality.”

So what can be expected from the new Congress in terms of telemedicine legislation? While still unclear, Mathy says that there is hope for some reiteration of the CONNECT for Health Act in the 115th Congress. The legislation ― introduced in the 114th Congress ― would create a volunteer program within Medicare for telemedicine and would allow reimbursement for store-and-forward and live-interactive technology. The AADA has expressed its support for this bill, which reflects the AADA’s position statement suggesting that state licensure law where the patient lives rather than where the physician is located should govern telehealth encounters. “This piece of legislation is the most agreed-upon telemedicine legislation that has garnered support across the aisle. However, “It will all come down to cost, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) still has not scored the CONNECT for Health Act.” 

Additionally, in the 114th Congress, there was broad bipartisan support for the CHRONIC Care Act that includes two sections related to telemedicine. “One section would allow Medicare Advantage plans to provide additional telemedicine services as a supplemental benefit,” Mathy said. However, patients would be allowed to choose if they would prefer a telemedicine visit over in-person. “The other section would remove the geographic location requirement in Next Generation Accountable Care Organizations, which would allow chronic care patients to receive services from their home. Currently, the geographic location or originating site has to be a health care office or clinic.” Although it was introduced in the 114th Congress, the CHRONIC Care Act is set to be re-introduced early in the new Congress.

Regardless, Congress and the new Administration will likely have its hands full as it looks to repeal and replace the ACA. “A lot of time in the health care space will be spent on ACA repeal and replacement,” Mathy said. As a result, telemedicine may sit on the back burner until larger issues are addressed.