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New Spending Bill a Boon for Telehealth


The includion of last year's CHRONIC Care Act in the bill could pave the way for future telehealth legislation.

The massive spending bill that the President signed this morning contained numerous provisions for healthcare. Continued funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) may be the most notable element of the deal, but couched inside the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 is the CHRONIC Care Act, first introduced last year to expand telehealth coverage.

The act, fully named the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017, passed the Senate in the fall but had yet to be debated in the House. Now, it’s law.

The bill is broadly aimed at increasing care coordination and convenience for those with chronic conditions. Starting in 2020, those on Medicare Advantage plans will now be eligible for additional telehealth benefits. What those mean isn’t completely clear yet: The Secretary of CMS will have to open a comment period before November 30th, 2018, to determine “what types of items and services (including those provided through supplemental health care benefits, such as remote patient monitoring, secure messaging, store and forward technologies, and other non-face-to-face communication) should be considered to be additional telehealth benefits.”

An entire section of the new spending bill addresses the expansion of telehealth services for Medicare patients who suffer stroke, now allowing those in urban areas to use the services more easily (previous policy had allowed for those in rural areas to do so).

"Moving forward, victims of the 550,000 strokes that occur among the Medicare population in urban settings each year will have a better chance of survival through more immediate access to specialists regardless of where they live," Joseph M. DeVivo, CEO of telehealth provider InTouch Health, said in a statement.

The bill also extends telehealth reimbursement privileges to dialysis facilities looking to deliver services remotely to patients with end stage renal disease who receive in-home dialysis. Accountable care organizations will also have an easier time getting reimbursement for the use of telehealth services.

The Center for Connected Health Policy, one of the leading telehealth advocacy organizations in the country, conducted an analysis of the CHRONIC Care Act upon its introduction last year. It noted some of the limitations that would remain in place upon the bill’s passage, as well as the need for clarification on “additional benefits,” but stressed the legislation’s potential to open doors for future policy.

“Allowing for the elimination of the geographic and facility requirements may provide needed evidence of telehealth’s ability to provide high quality and cost e­ffective care in non-rural environments, paving the way for more expansive changes to telehealth policy in statute and Medicare,” the report states.

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