Medicare cost crisis raises questions in telehealth debate

Most of those waivers expire after officials end the public health emergency, giving Congress a limited window for action.

Lobbying efforts are focused on three bills. The first measure, of Meaning. Tim Scott, RS.C., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, would remove restrictions that prevent most Medicare patients from accessing telehealth services outside of rural areas or their homes. The second, also sponsored by Schatz, would eliminate the rural requirement, while saying the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services must approve any waivers on access to home telemedicine.

The third bill, drafted by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., And other Home telehealth advocates, would also waive rural and household restrictions while giving CMS the power to designate new eligible sites, such as a clinic, library or other community facility. The bill would also extend the current waivers to 90 days after the public health emergency and give the HHS the power to implement waivers in future health emergencies.

Lawmakers in both chambers are starting to move, but there are signs that a limited extension of current flexibilities is the most likely outcome. The health panels of the House Ways and Means Committees and the Energy and Trade Committees recently held hearings on the matter, and Senate finance committee leaders are also having discussions.

Enthusiasm is tempered by cost concerns stemming from the Congressional Budget Office’s historic view that telehealth increases service uptake and therefore spending. The HHS Inspector General’s office also stepped up the fight against telemarketing programs involving medical equipment, lab tests and prescription drugs last year, which totaled billions losses to Medicare and patients.

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About Linda Stewart

Linda Stewart

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