Summit County’s federal delegation pushes for expanding, innovating telehealth services
FRISCO — Telehealth is the new unexplored frontier in medicine. The technology, which allows patients and health providers to conduct virtual appointments by video link without the need for a physical consultation, is being touted as a way to make up for deficiencies in rural and urban health provider networks, including provider shortages here in Summit County and other mountain communities.
This week, a new push was made in Congress to expand telehealth services available under Medicare, which has yet to broadly adopt or implement telehealth or digital services into its care coverage or reimburse providers who use telehealth in their treatment.
Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat, joined Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, in sponsoring H.R. 4013, the “Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act,” in the House on Friday, touting the bill as “bipartisan and bicameral” legislation. Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Gary Peters, D-Mich, previously sponsored the bill in the Senate as S. 773, and it has languished in the Senate’s finance committee since March.
The bill would allow hospitals to test telehealth services through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, an existing program that tests new service models to reduce Medicare and Medicaid expenditures. Telehealth, which can be half the cost of a traditional doctor visit, is being pushed by backers as win-win for cost-burdened consumers and overbooked providers.
The bill would direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to evaluate the cost effectiveness of different models of telehealth services. If a telehealth model improves quality of care without increasing costs — or even saving money — for Medicare, then that telehealth model would be covered by Medicare.
“For constituents across my district, and especially those in rural areas, this bill will mean more access to quality health care, better health outcomes and a more efficient health care system overall,” Neguse was quoted as saying in a news release. “This bill will help grow access to these critical services while also improving quality of care. I am pleased to work with Rep. Curtis to bring together values from both sides of the aisle to enhance access to care for citizens across our country.”
“Technology provides great potential to enhance connectivity between health care professionals and their patients, and I’m pleased to work with willing partners on both sides of the aisle to find health care solutions for rural communities across Utah and around the country,” Curtis said in the release.
Telehealth is already used by federal agencies for medical and behavioral health outreach. That includes the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has a “mobile vet center” program that acts as a counseling center on wheels for veterans in remote areas like Summit.
Using a secure video feed and a soundproof trailer room for consultations, the mobile vet centers can help veterans in rural areas without a Department of Veterans Affairs presence to connect with counselors and specialists. Telehealth can be used to diagnose a variety of behavioral health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
This will be Gardner and Peters’ third attempt to get the bill passed in the Senate, where it failed to gain traction after being introduced in 2015 and 2017.
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