Fifth attempt on telehealth bill passage

Would establish pilot programs, extend incentives for telehealth providers
By Erin McCann
10:56 AM

A telemedicine bill aimed at expanding remote patient monitoring technology in rural and underserved communities was re-introduced in the Senate this week, making it the fifth time the bill has been proposed since 2005.  

Cosponsors Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) together with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) are hoping the current environment of health information technology may help make the fifth time around the charm for the Fostering Independence Through Technology Act. 
If passed, the bill would establish pilot programs under Medicare to provide incentives for home health agencies utilizing telemedicine technologies. Officials say the bill would allow for improved monitoring of Medicare patients and further reduce program expenditures over time. 
In a push toward value-based care, many hospitals now face readmission penalties when a Medicare patient is re-admitted to a hospital within a specific time period. Currently, nearly one in five Medicare beneficiaries are re-admitted within a 30-day period. The bill's cosponsors say telemedicine could bring those numbers down significantly. 
"This innovative RPM technology has the ability to revolutionize patient care and dramatically reduce the amount of money Medicare spends on hospital re-admissions each year," said Thune in a press statement. "Not only could this technology reduce costs and improve health outcomes, but it also offers patients the individual freedom to stay in their homes, reducing costs associated with nursing homes and long-term care facilities."
The American Hospital Association has already voiced its support for the telemedicine bill. "The AHA has long advocated that patients receive the right care, in the right setting, at the right time," wrote Rick Pollack, executive vice president of the AHA, in a letter to Thune. "Your legislation advances that objective by giving medical professionals the capability to monitor patients receiving care for specified conditions."
Opponents, however, say this is the wrong time for increasing Medicare expenditures. "With the national debt at $16 trillion, millions out of work, and prices for gas and groceries on the rise, our government can’t continue to spend money we don’t have," added Congressman John Boehner (R-Ohio), in a press statement. 
Klobuchar and Thune's bill joins another telemedicine bill introduced in January that would increase federal support and payments for telehealth services. According to the American Telemedicine Association, the Telehealth Promotion Act of 2012 would extend benefits of telehealth and mHealth to 75 million Americans. 
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