WASHINGTON — New legislation aims to increase access to telemedicine services through government-sponsored health programs.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., recently introduced H.R. 6719, the Telehealth Promotion Act of 2012, which would establish that "no [medical] benefit covered shall be excluded solely because it is furnished via a telecommunications system," allowing greater access to telemedicine services through Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, Tricare, Department of Veterans Affairs and federal employee health plans.
The bill would also create a new federal standard for medical licensure, requiring that providers in federal health plans be licensed only in the states of their physical locations and free to treat eligible patients anywhere in the country.
The bill won praise from a telemedicine industry association.
"This is a major step forward in congressional support for telemedicine and would extend the benefits of telehealth and [mobile health] to nearly 75 million Americans," American Telemedicine Association CEO Jonathan Linkous said. "Rep. Thompson clearly understands that telemedicine is a value — for patients, for the government and for the American taxpayer. We encourage other legislators to support this win-win bill, which will improve health care and decrease federal health expenditures."
In addition, the bill would change existing Medicare and Medicaid programs by creating incentives for hospitals to use telemedicine to lower readmission rates; expanding the "Medical Home" coordinated-care option; exempting accountable care organizations from telehealth fee-for-service restrictions and allowing them to use telemedicine as a substitute for in-person care; launching new pilot programs for remote patient monitoring for up to 10 Department of Health and Human Services-designated conditions; adjusting reimbursement timelines for home health to better facilitate remote patient monitoring; and creating a telemedicine service option in Medicaid to treat high-risk pregnancies.
"This bill represents a panacea for federal involvement in telemedicine, eliminating archaic barriers and expanding opportunities for remote health care," Linkous said. "If passed, this bill will almost instantly make our federally funded health system more effective and more efficient."