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Draft Telehealth Bill Pays Close Heed to Potential Cost

By Kerry Young, CQ Roll Call

January 13, 2015 -- A draft House bill intended to expand Medicare's payments for telehealth shows an intention to keep the costs of an expansion of these services in check.

The measure, which appears to be still in the discussion stage, is circulating among lobbying groups. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has included telehealth as one of the topics of its broad look at ways to overhaul the delivery of health care in the United States, and will review the draft bill as part of what is known as the 21st Century Cures initiative.

In its current form, the draft bill includes a provision that would require the chief actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to certify that an expansion of telehealth "would reduce (or would not result in any increase in) net program spending."

The Alliance for Connected Care, whose board is drawn from firms including the telehealth firm Specialists on Call and insurance giant Anthem Inc., said it was pleased to see the Telemedicine Working Group, led by Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., advance the cause. At this time, people enrolled in traditional Medicare don't have the same access to telehealth as some participants in insurer-run Medicare Advantage plans.

"They deserve the same access to telehealth that consumers in the commercial marketplace and Medicare Advantage already enjoy," the Alliance said in a statement. "We look forward to working with the Committee to ensure the final bill reflects the realities of the telehealth marketplace while ensuring the program saves limited resources."

There's clearly a drive among some lawmakers to get CMS to take a more expansive approach, even as small-scale experiments take place around the country that may make clear both the advantages and shortcomings of the technology. Harper drew 20 bipartisan cosponsors in the 113th session of Congress for a bill intended to waive certain Medicare restrictions. 

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