Lifting telemedicine limits would save Medicare $1.8B over 10 years

Reimbursing physicians for consulting with and monitoring Medicare patients at home could yield significant savings, according to a new study spurred by recently proposed legislation.

Medicare fee for service (FFS) already allows reimbursement for telehealth services provided to patients at rural area health clinics, but not from the patient's home.

A new bill that has bipartisan congressional support would expand Medicare reimbursement of telehealth consultations and remote patient monitoring (or RPM for the chronically ill) with fewer restrictions from current geographic and service location requirements.

The bill, Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, is expected to save the federal government $1.8 billion over 10 years, according to Avalere Health, a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.

The telehealth market is expected to reach $6 billion by 2020,according to InMedica, a division of IMS Research.

Current law limits telehealth reimbursement to certain clinical sites and rural areas, bans patients from storing and forwarding information to physicians (i.e., via electronic medical records, email and other communications technology), and doesn't reimburse telehealth services from physical or occupational therapists.

By removing the latter restrictions, the CONNECT Act would broaden healthcare and reach patients who struggle with access, reducing costs for in-office visits, legislative sponsors of the bill have said.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has thrown its support behind the CONNECT Act, saying it will "greatly" improve access to quality care while maintaining patient safety.

"This legislation has the potential to remove barriers to new healthcare delivery models that promote coordinated and patient-centered care. Importantly, the bill aims to maintain high standards whether a patient is seeing a physician in an office or via telemedicine," said AMA President Steven Stack.

"Telemedicine can strengthen the patient-physician relationship and improve access for patients with chronic conditions and limited access to quality care. The AMA's guiding principles on telemedicine seek to foster innovation while promoting quality care," Stack added.

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