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Lawmakers Push for Expanding Medicare Coverage of Telestroke Care

September 23, 2015
by Heather Landi
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Several lawmakers are pushing legislation to expand Medicare coverage of telehealth services for stroke evaluations, citing studies that telestroke enables stroke patients to get treatment faster.

Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) wrote an op-ed piece in The Hill’s Congress blog urging lawmakers to support their Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine Act (FAST Act, H.R. 2799), which was introduced back in June. Senator Mark Kirk sponsored companion legislation, S. 1465, which was introduced in May.

In the op-ed piece, Beatty and Griffith explain that the FAST Act “would change an outdated provision of law that currently allows Medicare to cover a telestroke evaluation only when the patient is located at a rural hospital.”

The lawmakers note that “94 percent of stroke patients live in urban or suburban areas and face many of the same barriers to speedy care – lengthy travel times to a hospital, lack of available stroke specialists, and no awareness of stroke warning signs.”

According to Beatty and Griffith, “telestroke has proven to be very effective in increasing the speed with which patients get treatment by a stroke neurologist and also the number of patients who get tPA drug therapy in both rural and urban areas.”

Several health organizations, such as the American Heart Association, the American Stroke Association, the American Academy of Neurology and the American Telemedicine Association, are supporting the legislation, saying telestroke “has proven highly effective in improving patient access to quality stroke care” and noting that the lack of Medicare reimbursement for telestroke services patients in urban or suburban areas is a significant barrier to the expansion of telestroke services.

According to the organizations, stroke is the nation’s No. 5 killer and a leading cause of long-term disability, and the 2nd leading cause of dementia.

Beatty and Griffith also note that The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA) has estimated that nearly 22,000 more Medicare beneficiaries with stroke “would be treated with tPA each year if the FAST Act became law.”

According to the lawmakers, an AHA/ASA analysis indicates the FAST Act could result in $1.2 billion in net savings to Medicare and Medicaid over 10 years by reducing disability and the need for rehabilitative and long-term care.

“This is a win-win for stroke victims, their families, and for Congress,” the lawmakers wrote in the op-ed piece. “We can improve the lives of countless future stroke survivors and their families and create greater efficiencies in health care spending.”

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