CONNECT bill aims to extend telehealth in Medicare, save $1.8 bn over 10 years

Can it succeed where others have stalled? The Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act (S. 2484–whew!), introduced last week and sponsored by Brian Schatz (D-HI) and co-sponsored by five US Senators  (split equally between Republicans and Democrats), seeks to expand Medicare coverage of telehealth, including remote patient monitoring and store-and-forward asynchronous data transfer beyond the presently limited rural health and chronic care/transitional care management codes. The main areas included are:

  • Create a program to help providers meet the goals of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act and the Merit-based Incentive Payment System through the use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM)
  • Expand the use of RPM for certain patients with chronic conditions
  • Increase telehealth and RPM services in community health centers and rural health clinics; and
  • Make telehealth and RPM basic benefits in Medicare Advantage.

The $1.8 bn savings over 10 years is an estimate generated by Avalere on the top three bullets alone, according to the Senators sponsoring the bill.

There is a companion House bill (HR 4442) , also with bipartisan sponsorship, sponsored by Diane Black (R-TN) and co-sponsored by Peter Welch (D-VT), and Gregg Harper (R-MS).  But this version has a full roster of support starting with the usual suspects among association (ATA and HIMSS), payers and telehealth providers, but also from other less usual supporters such as the Health Care Chaplaincy Network, Universities of Mississippi and Pittsburgh Medical Centers, the Evangelical Good Samaritan Society and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB). 

Rep. Harper has also brought forth for two sessions the Telehealth Enhancement Act, which has never emerged from various committees [TTA 29 May 15]. In addition, Rep. Doris Matsui’s (D-CA) Telehealth Modernization Act of 2015 has had the same fate.

Both Senate and House bills are given by GovTrack a 1-2 percent chance of passage in an election year, so don’t bet on telehealth expansion any time soon. But the rare convergence of bipartisanship and Senate/House coordination gives one hope. HealthITOutcomes, HealthcareITNewsSen. Thune release, Sen. Schatz summary

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