Bipartisan Legislation Introduced To Expand Telehealth Services Nationally

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US Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA), Gregg Harper (R-MS), Diane Black (R-TN), and Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced a new bill to the House floor today that could significantly expand access to telehealth services for Medicare patients. The bill would also expand remote patient monitoring services for patients living with chronic conditions. Sponsored by Thompson, the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2015, was introduced and then immediately referred to the Committee on Ways and Means. Thompson has been a longtime advocate of telehealth services, introducing the same bill for consideration during last year’s Congressional session.

The Committee on Ways and Means is the oldest standing committee in the US House of Representatives, originally formed to debate issues related to revenue, trade agreements, and banking. During the 20th century, the committee expanded its jurisdiction to include any revenue-related matters concerning Social Security and Medicare. The committee now has complete control over the future of the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2015. Two of the bill’s bipartisan authors, including its sponsor Mike Thompson, sit on the Ways and Means committee. The pair will be key advocates for the bill as they fight to push it through committee and forward for a full vote.

Thousands of bills are introduced in Congress each year, but only fifteen percent ever make it out of committee, and only three percent go on to become laws, leaving the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2015 with slim chances of gaining the traction needed to reform telehealth reimbursement guidelines. Government watchdog Govtrack.us monitors these bills, and the progress they make on the path toward becoming a law. Based on probability statistics and past trends, Govtrack gives the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2015 just a three percent chance of ever making it out of committee, and an even less hopeful one percent chance of ever becoming a law.

There are a number of other telehealth-related bills currently sitting in committee that attempt to expand telehealth services for Medicare patients, including the Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2013, which despite having 20 co-sponsors never made it out of committee. An identical version of that bill was reintroduced in 2014, but again failed to make it out of committee. The bill was reintroduced a third time on April 28th of this year, but has only four co-sponsors and just a four percent chance of making it out of committee, and a one percent chance of becoming a law, according to Govtrack.

In contrast, the 21st Century Cures Act has cleared committee and is on the House schedule to be debated and voted on. With 230 cosponsors, Govtrack gives this bill a 53 percent chance of being enacted, which is why telehealth advocates lobbied, and initially succeeded, at getting telehealth provisions included in the bill. Sadly, language expanding telehealth services was stripped from the bill in April, while it was still being debated in committee. Difficulties with the Congressional Budget Offices scoring system was cited as the key reason for its removal. At the time, a committee spokeswoman attempted to reassure industry advocates, explaining, “Telemedicine is a priority for the committee, particularly thanks to the leadership of Reps. Harper and Matsui, and will continue to be an important part of the 21st Century Cures initiative," but thus far, telehealth provisions have not been reintroduced into the bill.


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