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CONNECT Bill Boosts Prospects for Telehealth Integration

"Greater use of technology to connect patients and doctors will benefit both with better outcomes, as well more timely and efficient use of resources."

- Six U.S. senators and three House representatives have introduced the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, legislation that would spark telehealth integration across the country. CONNECT aims to expand telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) services through Medicare, improve care outcomes, facilitate patient-provider communications and help keep healthcare costs in line.

The CONNECT for Health Act, introduced in both houses of Congress on Feb .3, would spark telehealth integration across the country.

The bill’s bipartisan co-sponsors noted that numerous studies on telehealth and RPM have shown benefits in care quality and cost savings. However, current statutory provisions constrain telehealth reimbursements through restrictions based on the patient’s location; prohibitions on the use of store-and-forward technologies in 48 states; limitations on health professionals who may provide telehealth services; and lack of reimbursable telehealth codes under Medicare.

Addressing the boundaries of the current law, CONNECT would create a “bridge program” to help providers transition to the Merit-based Incentive Payment System and alternative payment models by allowing them to use telehealth and RPM without most of the existing restrictions, according to a statement issued by the co-sponsors.

It would also:

  • Permit the use of RPM for certain patients with chronic conditions.
  • Establish as originating sites facilities for telestroke evaluation and management, Native American health service facilities, and facilities for home dialysis in certain cases.
  • Allow further use of telehealth and RPM in community health centers and rural health clinics.
  • Confer telehealth and RPM as basic benefits in Medicare Advantage.

The co-sponsors stated that a financial analysis of the major provisions of CONNECT would produce as estimated $1.8 billion is savings over 10 years.

“Telehealth is the future of healthcare. It saves money and improves health outcomes,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), one of CONNECT’s co-sponsors, in a public statement. “Our bi-partisan bill puts us on a path to transform healthcare delivery, making it less costly and more convenient for patients and providers.”

Another co-sponsor, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), commented: “Greater use of technology to connect patients and doctors will benefit both with better outcomes, as well more timely and efficient use of resources. I’ve seen firsthand the positive value of telehealth and remote monitoring in Maryland that connects ICU patients with critical care staff based at larger medical centers. We have the technology today to promote the delivery of high quality care in an efficient and cost-effective way around the country. I’m proud to work with my colleagues on this strong bipartisan effort to expand telehealth and remote patient monitoring services.”

The other Senate co-sponsors were Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.). Representatives Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) introduced companion legislation in the House.

Black, a registered nurse, said the legislation would expand access to life-saving technologies, particularly in rural communities.

American Medical Association President Steven Stack, MD, also weighed in, noting that the legislation would “accelerate the adoption of healthcare delivery models that promote coordinated and patient-centered care.” Stack said the bill maintain high care standards whether a patient would see a doctor in an office or through telemedicine.

 

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