The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Health on Wednesday approved a bill, H.R. 3120, designed to ease meaningful use requirements on physicians and the bill will now move forward to the full Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rep. Michael Burgess, M.D. (R-Texas) introduced the bill, H.R. 3120, which is titled “To amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to reduce the volume of future electronic health record-related significant hardship requests.” H.R. 3120 amends the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in order to remove a requirement that requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to continue to make meaningful use standards more stringent over time.
According to a background memo submitted to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health, “While the meaningful use program has been very successful in driving adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), many providers have struggled to meet the requirements of meaningful use. As the Secretary is mandated to continue to raise the standards overtime, more and more providers are likely to fall behind. When this happens, providers will often seek a hardship waiver to acknowledge they could not meet the increased standards.”
The background memo states that the bill simply removes the mandate that meaningful use standards become more stringent over time and allows the Department to be more deliberative in such evaluations.
Also, this week, several telehealth-related bills moved forward in the House. The House Ways and means Committee cleared a bill, H.R. 3727, that would require Medicare Advantage plans to include telehealth services as a base benefit beginning in 2020. Many health IT organizations have voiced support for the bill, called the Increasing Telehealth Access in Medicare Act.
In a letter to the representatives co-sponsoring the bill, Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White wrote, “Medicare lags the majority of other health payers—including Medicaid, the private sector, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program—in recognizing the promise of telehealth. Previous Congressional attempts to expand telehealth under Medicare have fallen short due to concerns about overutilization of care under Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service structure. Under this structure, there are powerful incentives for providers to bill Medicare for as many services as possible. Under Medicare Advantage’s payment system, however, that incentive is flipped on its head. By allowing Medicare Advantage plans to include delivery of Medicare Part B services via telehealth in a plan’s basic benefits, your bill will allow a significant portion of Medicare beneficiaries access to services via telehealth.”
Another bill approved by the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee this week was H.R. 1148, which would expand Medicare reimbursement for tele-stroke services. Introduced by Rep. Griffith (R-VA) and Rep. Beatty(D-OH), the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act, if passed, would increase timely access to trained neurologists through telemedicine in the Medicare program so neurologists can direct patient care at the earliest possible intervention point.
Currently, Medicare will only pay for such a consultation if the originating site hospital is in a rural Health Professional Shortage Area or a county outside a Metropolitan Statistical Area, according to the bill sponsors. “However, 94 percent of stroke patients live in urban and suburban areas. Stroke is currently the 5th leading cause of death and is projected to increase significantly; associated costs are projected to triple by 2030. However, with quick treatment, stroke patients can mitigate subsequent medical complications and disability, but every minute can count,” the bill sponsors wrote in a memo.