Telehealth progress may stall in DC

'Disease doesn't just hit Democrats or Republicans; it hits every family'
By Eric Wicklund
11:11 AM
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The American Telemedicine Association is hoping an unlikely alliance in Congress between a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat will produce some strong momentum for telemedicine in the coming years.
 
The 21st Century Cures initiative – the brainchild of Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo. – seeks to improve the long and expensive process of developing new treatments for diseases. Upton, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and DeGette, a senior Democrat on the committee, are expecting to introduce legislation after the new Congress takes office in January 2015.
 
 
The two have been holding more than a dozen roundtable discussions and hearings in and outside Washington, D.C., over the past six months, but have been tightlipped on what their bill would target.
 
Still, the ATA is hopeful.
 
"We're hoping to be a part of that," Gary Capistrant, the organization's senior director of public policy, said during a recent ATA teleconference. He said he hopes the pending legislation would include "some very realistic proposals."
 
According to various news reports, the past half-year of discussions have touched upon topics that include biomedical research, clinical trials, investment in innovation, personalized medicine and regulation of digital health.
 
"It's about time that we change the process for approving these drugs and devices and take advantage of the technology … and really move up to the 21st Century," Upton said during a recent interview on MSNBC's 'Morning Joe.' "We've been working for the last year, listening to all the different stakeholders… asking them what can we do as legislators to really streamline this process."
 
 
"Disease doesn't just hit Democrats or Republicans; it hits every family," added DeGette. "And so that's why Fred and I really decided to team up and make this big bipartisan effort. ... Everybody's happy about it."
 
The 21st Century Cures initiative may be the only bit of good healthcare news to come out of the nation's capital for quite some time, however. In their monthly teleconference, Capistrant and ATA CEO Jonathan Linkous said the results of the recent midterm elections, which put the GOP in the majority in both the House and Senate, could bring discussions to a halt as Congress butts heads with President Barack Obama.
 
"This is not a good scenario" for meaningful healthcare legislation, Linkous said. "We've got a train wreck hitting us."
 
"We're not looking for a lot of movement out of this Congress or the presidency for the next two years," he added.
 
Of particular concern is GOP opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans deem as too far-reaching and expensive. Linkous and Capistrant said that could mean "much more emphasis on the budget," and attempts to reduce federal funding for Medicare and Medicaid.
 
"It's going to be hard to find ways to pay for these things," Capistrant said.
 
To that end, Capistrant and Linkous said it falls on state legislatures to advance meaningful telemedicine legislation. That may lead to a patchwork progression of guidance on such issues as licensure and reimbursement, and it's prompting ATA executives to move quickly and often to address each state's efforts.
 
This story first appeared in Healthcare IT News' sister publication mHealth News here.