The Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act is a new piece of legislation designed to improve telehealth services for Medicare users. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Republican senator Cory Gardner and Democrat senator Gary Peters, is similar to one proposed in 2015. The goal remains the same: increasing care to rural patients.
On March 30, Senator Gardner issued a press release claiming that Medicare currently offers “limited telehealth services, setting a poor industry standard, discouraging innovation, and restricting access to specialized services.” Gardner also believes that the bill will provide incentive for the healthcare industry to develop even more new technology that will reduce costs and improve patient health.
Telehealth’s ability to extend health care services over long distances will always appeal first and foremost to those who have to travel long distances to receive them. As a result, more and more healthcare providers are offering telehealth services. This new law proposes a new approach to adopting these services.
Under the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation will evaluate telehealth services for cost, effectiveness and quality of care. Those that pass the test will then be covered at eligible hospitals. A telehealth service can then be defined, according to the bill, as a “certified enhanced telehealth service”, as long as it meets two requirements:
1. The service either reduced Medicare spending without reducing the quality of care OR improved the quality of care without increasing spending.
2. The Chief Actuary of CMS certified that expanding the application of the service would reduce net program spending.
According to a summary of the bill, Medicare payment for a certified enhanced telehealth service shall equal 80% of the lesser of the actual charge for the service or the amount determined using the payment methodology established under the test model. CMS ends up paying for the services regardless of the Medicare beneficiary’s location or area of residence.