CONNECT for Health Act unveiled; Expands use of telemedicine, saves $1.8 billion

The bill would also allow telehealth and remote patient monitoring to be basic benefits in Medicare Advantage.
By Jessica Davis
10:21 AM
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A bipartisan group of Senators this week unveiled legislation to remove Medicare barriers to telemedicine use in a bill that proponents say can generate $1.8 billion in savings over 10 years.

Led by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the CONNECT for Health Act seeks to create an opening for more providers to incorporate telemedicine into their practices. The Senate group hopes to use the platform to further study its effects on healthcare.

[Also: Doctor on Demand expands telehealth services to include psychiatry]

Currently, many providers are restricted in telemedicine use by geography, strict rules around originating sites, restrictions on store-and-forward technologies, limitations on reimbursable codes and more.

Under the CONNECT act, the Senators propose a bridge program to assist providers in the transition to the new Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, with its the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System, by removing many restrictions to telehealth and remote patient monitoring under Medicare.

Qualifying providers participating in MACRA's alternative payment models, for example, will be allowed to use patient monitoring for patients with chronic conditions.

In addition, it would allow new originating sites – dialysis facilities, telestroke evaluation and management sites and Native American health service facilities – and permit further telehealth and remote patient monitoring in community health centers  and rural health clinics. The bill would also allow telehealth and RPM to be basic benefits in Medicare Advantage.

That optimism will be scrutinized by the Congressional Budget Office, which has been skeptical of telehealth's ability to reduce government spending.

The act is endorsed by a long list of organizations including American Medical Association, Kaiser Permanente, Cerner, AARP, Anthem, Telecommunications Industry Association, American Academy of Physicians and National Association of ACOs, amongst others.

Twitter: @JessiefDavis