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Legislation Introduced to Eliminate Barriers for Telehealth Adoption in Rural Areas

May 8, 2017
by Heather Landi
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Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI) introduced legislation that aims to expand reimbursement for telehealth services to rural clinics and metropolitan statistical areas with 70,000 people or fewer and also adds Medicare coverage for remote patient monitoring of congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

Rep. Duffy, chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance, introduced the bill, called the Helping Expand Access to Rural Telehealth (HEART) Act, to eliminate barriers for the adoption of telehealth services in rural areas, according to a press release from Rep. Duffy’s office.

“People in rural areas across America have been left behind, and they deserve access to modern medical practices. The HEART Act will help Americans improve healthcare quality and contact with healthcare professionals, regardless of where they live,” Duffy said in a statement.

According to data provided in the press release, telehealth video consultations are expected to grow from 19.7 million in 2014 to a projected 158.4 million by 2020. The number of telemedicine visits provided to Medicare beneficiaries increased by 28 percent per year from 2004 to 2013, for a total of 107,000 visits provided in 2013.

Telemedicine is important in rural communities, as over 40,000 rural Medicare beneficiaries received at least one telemedicine visit in 2013. In addition, MedPAC Commissioners in 2016 noted the benefits of telehealth for patients, including less time lost due to travel and greater convenience, and expressed concern that Medicare may be proceeding too cautiously on coverage of telehealth services.

The annual cost to deploy the telehealth program in 2012 was $1,600 per patient per year, compared to over $13,000 for traditional home-based care and over $77,000 for nursing home care. Between 2006 and 2009, Medicare saved $670 million and avoided 20,500 readmissions by discharging chronic patients to home health services instead of traditional post-acute care models, according to Rep. Duffy.


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