CMS urged to further reimburse telehealth remote patient monitoring with three new CPT codes

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which controls payments to doctors for the Medicare and state Medicaid programs, has been urged by 49 healthcare organizations and technology vendors to further unbundle the controlling CPT code for remote patient monitoring (RPM), 99091. The 2018 Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) Final Rule finally separated RPM from telemedicine remote visits by permitting separate payment for remote physiological data monitoring by unbundling CPT 99091 to reimburse for patient-generated health data (PGHD)–a new term. The letter to Administrator Seema Verma proposes 2019 adoption of three additional American Medical Association CPT Editorial Panel-developed codes which further break down various aspects of RPM, while maintaining 99091. 

CPT codes for Medicare and Medicaid are important because they also influence private insurers’ reimbursement policies. Practices which get paid for RPM are more likely to adopt enabling technologies if they are affordable within how they are paid. 

CMS started to include telehealth RPM in 2015 in a chronic care management code, 99490, but specifically prohibited the use of CPT 99091 in conjunction with CCM. This created a lot of confusion after some brief moments of hope by tying technology to a complex CCM model.

It’s possibly a ‘light at end of the tunnel’ development for hungry tech companies, but one which won’t be determined till end of year when PFS rules are released. Also Healthcare Dive.

Soapbox: JPM’s Dimon takes the 50,000 foot view on the JP Morgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon health joint venture

Mr. Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, had a few thoughts about the JPM-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon healthcare JV for all three companies. You’ll have to fill up the tea or coffee mug (make it a small pot) for it’s an exceedingly prolix Annual Shareholder Letter you’ll have to sled through to find those comments. Your Editor has taken her punishment to find them, towards the end of the letter in ‘Public Policy’. 

They demonstrate what this Editor suspected–an headache-inducing mix of generalities and overreach, versus starting modestly and over-delivering.

  • Point #1 sets up what has gone wrong. Among several, “Our nation’s healthcare costs are twice the amount per person compared with most developed nations.” Under point 2 on how poor public policy happened, an admission that Obamacare fixed little:

Here’s another example: We all know that the U.S. healthcare system needs to be reformed. Many have advocated getting on the path to universal healthcare for all Americans. The creation of Obamacare, while a step in the right moral direction, was not well done. America has 290 million people who have insurance — 180 million through private enterprise and 110 million through Medicare and Medicaid. Obamacare slightly expanded both and created exchanges that insure 10 million people. But it did very little to fix our broken healthcare system and has, in fact, torn up the body politic over 10 years — and this tumult may go on for another 10 years.

  • Point #7 is about fixing the deficit and the ill effects if we don’t. In Mr. Dimon’s view, healthcare is a major part of this through the uncontrolled growth of entitlements, with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security leading the pack–skipping over the fact that nearly all Americans pay into Medicare and SSI well in advance of any entitlement collection. Healthcare is also an offender through unnecessary costs such as administrative and fraud (25-40 percent),  and six mainly chronic conditions accounting for 75 percent of spending.
  • The experts–specifically, their experts–will fix it! “While we don’t know the exact fix to this problem, we do know the process that will help us fix it. We need to form a bipartisan group of experts whose direct charge is to fix our healthcare system. I am convinced that this can be done, and if done properly, it will actually improve the outcomes and satisfaction of all American citizens.”
  • The generalities continue with
    • The JV “will help improve the satisfaction of our healthcare services for our employees (that could be in terms of costs and outcomes) and possibly help inform public policy for the country.” 
    • Aligning incentives systemwide ‘because we’re getting what we incentivize’
    • “Studying the extraordinary amount of money spent on waste, administration and fraud costs.”
    • “Empowering employees to make better choices and have the best options available by owning their own healthcare data with access to excellent telemedicine options, where more consumer-driven health initiatives can help.”
    • “Developing better wellness programs, particularly around obesity and smoking — they account for approximately 25% of chronic diseases (e.g., cancer, stroke, heart disease and depression).”
    • “Determining why costly and specialized medicine and pharmaceuticals are frequently over- and under-utilized.”
    • “Examining the extraordinary amount of money spent on end-of-life care, often unwanted.”
    • “To attack these issues, we will be using top management, big data, virtual technology, better customer engagement and the improved creation of customer choice (high deductibles have barely worked”).

This Editor has observed from the vantage of the health tech, analytics, payer, and care model businesses that nearly every company has addressed or is addressing all these concerns. So what’s new here? Perhaps the scale, but will they tap into the knowledge base those businesses represent or reinvent the wheel? 

A bad sign is Mr. Dimon’s inclusion of ‘end of life care’. This last point is a prime example of overreach–how many of the JV’s employees are in this situation? The ‘attack’ tactics? We’ve seen, heard, and many of us have been part of similar efforts.

Prediction: This JV may be stuck at the 50,000 foot view. It will take a long time, if ever, to descend and produce the concrete, broadly applicable results that it eagerly promises to its million-plus employees, much less the polity. 

Telehealth policy and reimbursement changes summarized by Center for Connected Health Policy (US)

A significant barrier to the adoption of telehealth (defined here as video consults, store and forward imaging, and remote patient monitoring) is the issue of reimbursement gaps. Basic Medicare (the Federal program for those over 65) pays for video and store and forward only under certain conditions (primarily under rural telehealth programs) but does pay for RPM as part of chronic care management (albeit under a maze of codes and procedures). Medicaid (the state low-income insurance program) is far more lenient, and private pay in states varies widely, with 36 states having some form of parity payment legislation. However, Medicare is planning expansion beyond what is covered in private plans (Medicare Advantage) by 2020. Some Federal programs such as the advanced Next Generation ACO program and the bundled payment Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement model have telehealth waivers.

The always-helpful Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) has published a five-page guide to where these programs stand. Becker’s Hospital Review. CCHP PDF 

Rounding up what’s news: LindaCare, TytoCare funding; Medicare telehealth parity, Norway’s big cyberhack, Virta reversing diabetes, DARPA’s 60th birthday

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Lasso.jpg” thumb_width=”100″ /]Your Editor’s been away and then largely out of pocket over the past two weeks. Here’s our roundup/catchup beyond the bombshells:

In remote patient monitoring for chronic disease, Philips, PMV, and other investors invested €7 million ($8.6 million) in Belgium’s/Hartford CT’s LindaCare. The Series B funding will accelerate its US expansion of OnePulse for remote monitoring of chronic heart failure and cardiac arrhythmia patients with Cardiac Implanted Electronic Devices (CIED). It is in use in major European hospitals and in US trials, though there is no mention in the release or on their website on CE Marking or FDA clearance/clinical trials. Previously from its 2013 founding, it had €1.6 million in funding. Also Mobihealthnews.

TytoCare, a remote monitoring telehealth/video consult platform which integrates peripherals for a virtual physical exam, raised $25 million in a Series C round led by large Chinese insurer Ping An via their Global Voyager Fund plus Walgreens, Fosun Group, OrbiMed, LionBird, and Cambia Health Solutions. Release. Their total raise is $45.6 million since 2012 (Crunchbase). Their most current partnership is with Long Island-based Allied Physicians Group which is featuring at-home telehealth visits at its pediatric practice in Plainview.

More favorable Medicare reimbursement for telehealth is the subject of four US Congressional bills. The one furthest along is the ‘Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic Care Act of 2017’ (S.870), which aims to improve at-home care, increases Medicare Advantage flexibility, gives ACOs more options and expands telehealth capabilities for stroke and dialysis patients. It passed the Senate in September and now goes to the House Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. The effect of all four is on Medicare payment parity with in-office visits, which does not currently exist and is not affected by the various state parity bills on insurance for those below 65. American Well touts a 10-fold growth in revenue, but the likelihood of any of these four bills being signed into law is small, particularly with a pending report from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. Becker’s Hospital Review

Norway released at end of January news on an “advanced and persistent” 8 January cyberattack on Health South East RHF. This has both a health breach and military twist.

(more…)

Humana-Omada Health diabetes prevention program could cut $3 bn in Medicare expense: study

A study performed by insurer Humana using the Omada Health program for diabetes prevention effectively lowered weight, improved cholesterol, blood glucose and mood. 500 volunteer subjects from Humana’s Medicare Advantage program, enrolled during 2015, lost an average of 13 to 14 pounds over a year (7.5 to 8 percent). They also saw improvements in cholesterol levels, blood glucose levels and subjective measures of moods and self-care. Individuals were chosen from administrative medical claims based on metabolic syndrome diagnosis or a combination of three of four of the following diagnoses: prediabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and obesity. Based on the researchers’ calculations, this type of prevention program among this group if widely implemented among overweight adults could reduce Medicare costs by $3 bn over 10 years, not only for diabetes but also heart disease and high blood pressure.

Omada Health’s program included an online small group support, personalized health coaching, digital tracking tools, and a weekly behavior change curriculum. These one-hour lessons focused on a single topic were delivered via laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and included interactive games or exercises, written reflections, and goal-setting activities. The content was approved by the CDC Diabetes Prevention Recognition Program. Data was gathered via wireless scale, pedometer for physical activity, online food intake logging and standard lab results. “In conclusion, this study demonstrated that older adults who agreed to participate in this program were able to engage meaningfully and gain important health and wellness benefits during a relatively short time frame.”

While the cost reduction estimate is exactly that, other studies directionally confirm health improvement and savings: the National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP) which is the model for the Omada program, the BMJ/Noom Health study, and the Fruit Street/VSee telehealth program being used by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, University of South Florida and University of Michigan. mHealth Intelligence, study (full text in Journal of Aging and Health/Sage Journals)

Action This Day in US healthcare, coming to pharma, insurance, home care and innovation

Action This Day, in Churchill’s words. Today’s news of President Trump meeting with the CEOs of US pharmaceutical companies– Novartis, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Celgene, and Amgen–along with the PhRMA association head, indicates the speed of change that this two-week old Administration intends in healthcare. Trump’s points to the Pharma Giants: drug prices need to be brought down, especially for Medicare and Medicaid patients, through competitive bidding not price-fixing; bringing home production to the US; and that there is ‘global freeloading’ on US drugs. This last is a bit vague, and the pricing part may stir some Standard Republican Resistance, but what Trump also came down firmly for is speeding up the drug approval process. In return, the execs asked for tax reform.

Notable here is this quote:  “I’ll oppose anything that makes it harder for smaller, younger companies to take the risk of bringing their product to a vibrantly competitive market,” Trump said. “That includes price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare, which is what’s happening.” The Hill, Business Insider

Does this mean an open door and encouragement for healthcare technology?

Certainly many startups, early-stage companies, and Grizzled Pioneers are eagerly anticipating a more open healthcare business environment than the many dictates, restrictions and the constant changing of goalposts they have faced for the past eight years. The hope is an openness of the Powers That Be on the Federal side (CMS, HHS, FDA) to innovation, patient-centered care and a change away from hammering constantly on lowering cost through a multitude of controls and top-down diktats on what Healthcare Should Be.

This Editor has seen companies straining to hang in there, playing the niches, moderating their equity raises, merging, projecting profitability sometime in the future. Some have not made it. One is the pioneer telehealth company Viterion Corporation, which was quietly dissolved by its parent company in Japan for various reasons at end of last year. (Editor’s disclaimer: I was marketing director for the company.)

Already innovation is reaching long-neglected areas like home care. Home support for the aging population isn’t buzzy, analytic or sexy, but it’s ready for change. The Financial Times takes a look at this $40 bn US market, focusing on the Hometeam caregiving service presently in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which has over $43 million in investment after only three years (Crunchbase); Honor, which has over $65 million in funding, operating California and Texas. Their points of difference from traditional home care agencies involve models and technology. Hometeam employs carers who are full employees with benefits and an average of $15/hour pay, double that of the usual minimum wage paid to independent contractors. They equip carers with iPads to track what happens in the home, and to report daily to families. Honor has an algorithm to help it scale up from the 100 or so carers who are the ‘break point’ in matching carers with patient needs. In contrast, the UK is far behind in development. The article looks at Vida which uses a mix of carers and technology for its private pay clients. Now approved by the Care Quality Commission, Vida is already in talks with local councils across London and Brighton. But funding is thin: £400,000 of start-up funding and planning to raise £1 million. Tech start-ups try to fix ailing US elderly care sector. If paywalled, search on the title. Hat tip to Susanne Woodman

Action Next Days? Predictions have been all over the place since the election. Many have been overheated (and highly political), but others explain the complexities of undoing the past six years. A reminder: the PPACA did not go into effect until 2010 and most of the provisions kicked in during 2011. Health tech law firm Epstein Becker Green trotted out its crystal ball (more…)

The global ‘state of telehealth’ according to Dr Topol: work in progress

Are we approaching a ‘tipping point’ in telehealth and telemedicine within 5 to 10 years? While telemedicine (doctor-patient, hospital-hospital video consults) and even telehealth (patient monitoring generally at home) are becoming more common, Drs Eric Topol and E. Ray Dorsey see the tip coming within the decade in their New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM July, subscription required) article, moving from the early adopters to the majority. But there are still substantial barriers: interstate licensing, fragmented care, spotty state and Federal reimbursement including Medicare, wireless coverage enabling mobile monitoring, the future of the doctor-patient relationship, even the potential for narcotic abuse. They also need to move into the private sector. Somewhat misleading are the 2 million telehealth visits counted by the Veterans Health Administration; it includes the larger programs in store-and-forward information transfer and clinical video consults versus in-home telehealth.

Three trends they see paving the way to ubiquity:

  1. Moving beyond providing access to being driven by convenience and reducing cost
  2. Not just for acute conditions, but for monitoring chronic and episodic conditions (although vital signs monitoring, which is the core meaning of telehealth, has been doing so since the early 2000s)
  3. Migration from hospitals and satellite clinics to in-home and mobile applications

While the two doctors caution on risks, including breaches, they see telemedicine and telehealth increasing the delivery of care in the next ten years and spreading globally. Healthcare Informatics, Qmed

AHRQ ‘evidence map’ pinpoints chronic condition telehealth, telemental health (US)

The US Government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) released a final and fairly positive report analyzing telehealth effectiveness. It was a meta-review of 58 systematic research reviews on telehealth. Criteria were that the studies could examine real time or asynchronous telehealth, onsite or at distance, and that the patient interacted with healthcare providers for the purposes of treatment, management, or prevention of disease.

The abstract’s conclusions are positive for remote patient monitoring (RPM) for chronic conditions and for telemental health:

  • Positive outcomes came from the use of telehealth for several chronic conditions and for psychotherapy as part of behavioral health
  • The most consistent benefits were when telehealth was used for communication and counseling, plus remote monitoring in chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease
  • The improvements were in outcomes such as mortality, quality of life and reductions in hospital admissions

POLITICO’s Morning eHealth has additional and most interesting background. The AHRQ was tasked by two Senators, John Thune (R-SD) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) to analyze telehealth for effectiveness through a literature review and “to give a government’s view – not an industry-funded study or a poorly-conducted academic study – on what the technology could do if, for instance, Medicare paid for more of it.” The December draft seemed to be ambiguous on telehealth studies to date, citing uneven quality and the poor definition of telehealth. (more…)

The widening gyre of insurers covering telehealth (telemedicine?) (US)

Is a tipping point nearing? Soon? An article in Modern Healthcare that contains a heavy dollop of promotion headlines ‘telehealth’s’ adoption by insurers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Anthem and Highmark. When read through, it’s mainly about telemedicine (video consults) but does touch on the vital signs monitoring that’s the basis of telehealth. Video consults through Teladoc and other services such as Doctor on Demand and American Well are gradually being reimbursed by private insurers, despite the concern that it would actually drive up cost by being an ‘add-on’ to an in-person visits. Medicaid increasingly covers it, and states are enacting ‘parity’ regulations equalizing in-office and virtual visits including, in many cases, telehealth. Yet the move for coverage is hampered by lack of reimbursement to doctors, or the perception of limited or no payment. Even Medicare, a big advocate for alternative models of care, currently pays little out for telehealth–$17.6 million on a $630 million+ program. The Congressional Budget Office is skeptical, despite the savings claimed by CONNECT for Health Act in both the Senate and House [TTA 12 Feb]. Virtual reality: More insurers are embracing telehealth

6 helpful hints for healthcare startup founders–and funders

Investor Skip Fleshman of Palo Alto (of course)-based Asset Management Ventures has six points of sound advice for founders and developers–and funders of same–who think that their Big Idea(s) are the one thing which will revolutionize healthcare, particularly because of their personal experiences. We’ve observed that successful startups have fitted themselves into the Healthcare Establishment’s game [TTA 19 May], but if an investor is still seeing that attitude, it’s still there. AMV’s track record is there with investments in several healthcare companies, including Proteus Digital Health and HealthTap. Mr Fleshman’s points with this Editor’s comments:

1. Listen to the market–and it’s not direct-to-consumer, despite a cursory reading of Eric Topol. Find where your product or service can reduce or avoid cost, increase engagement and improve quality i.e. patient outcomes (which are all linked, see #4)
2. Hire people who know how to speak the language–experienced healthcare people who can work the system but also get the changes and want to make a difference. And no, they may not look or act like you. They’ll often have gray hair and families. Unless they are independently wealthy, they also expect to be paid decently. Quite a few will be women who don’t act or look like you either, but are invaluable in your organization in multiple ways.
3. Understand how the money flows–and the money is with providers, payers, self-insured employers and (Mr Fleshman doesn’t mention this) government (Medicare, Medicaid, the alphabet soup of HHS, CMS…). The incentives (shared savings) are now to providers to pull cost out of their system but somehow maintain population health quality and outcomes. How to pull this off is where the innovation is needed. Partner wherever you can–and this Editor would add, with other successful early-stage companies as well.
4. Read the Affordable Care Act–with a bottle of painkillers and eyedrops. (more…)

Payer reimbursement for telehealth, telemedicine gains in Delaware, Connecticut (US)

Two states–Connecticut and Delaware–are now requiring private commercial insurers to cover telemedicine and telehealth services at parity with in-person visits. Connecticut was first, signed into law on 22 June but not starting till 1 January 2016. It covers not only video consults but distance care delivered both synchronously and asynchronously, such as store and forward transfers, and covers remote patient monitoring. It specifically omits audio-only consults, email, texting and fax (!). The Connecticut law also requires parity of payment with in-person visits to prevent lower reimbursements. Delaware’s law was signed 7 July to take effect immediately, and based on the summary is similar in breadth to Connecticut’s. Delaware is now the 29th state to enact telehealth/telemedicine reimbursement legislation. Articles written by members of the Foley & Lardner law firm. JD Supra, Lexology

On the Federal front, Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA) and three other members of the House of Representatives introduced H.R. 2948, the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2015. It would remove the current geographic restrictions for telehealth (in the Federal definition including telemedicine), expand services, expand telehealth/RPM for additional chronic conditions and expand home care service into hospice and dialysis. It is a rework of last session’s H.R. 5380 and is at very early days having gone to a Congressional committee. Unfortunately its passage has a snowball-in-July chance with Govtrack.us giving it zero chance of enactment. Rep. Thompson’s website, FierceHealthIT, ATA-Jonathan Linkous support statement.

Previously in TTA: Telehealth reimbursement makes legislative progress in Texas, US House

Health Datapalooza 2015: more data, better health

Guest columnist and data analytics whiz Sarianne Gruber (@subtleimpact) sat in on the Health Data Consortium’s 2015 edition of Health Datapalooza last week in Washington, DC. It was all about the data that Medicare has been diligently harvesting. Also see the US-UK connection on obesity.

Health Datapalooza 2015, now in its sixth year, welcomed more than 2,000 innovators, healthcare industry executives, policymakers, venture capitalists, startups, developers, researchers, providers, consumers and patient advocates. Health Datapalooza brings together stakeholders to discuss how best to work the advance health and healthcare,” said Susan Dentzer, senior policy adviser to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a member of the Health Data Consortium. The Consortium promotes health data best practices and information sharing; and works with businesses, entrepreneurs, and academia to help them understand how to use data to develop new products, services, apps and research insights. This year’s conference was held on May 31 through June 3 in Washington, DC. And how best to celebrate is with the gift of more data!

New Medicare Data Means More Transparency
The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its third annual update to the Medicare hospital inpatient and outpatient charge data on June 1, 2013. (more…)

The leaky roof of healthcare data (in)security–DARPA to the rescue?

This week’s priceless quote:

“A lot of the response was, ‘We live in a cornfield in the middle of Minnesota,’” he said. “’Who wants to hurt us? Who can even find us here?’”–Jim Nelms, Mayo Clinic’s first chief information security officer, 

We know where you are and what you do! The precarious state of healthcare data security at facilities and with insurers, plus increased external threats from hacking has been getting noticed by Congress–when you see it in POLITICO, you know finally it’s made it into the Rotunda. It was over the horizon late last summer with the FBI alert and legislators in high dudgeon over the Community Health Systems China hack [TTA 22 Aug 14]. It’s a roof that leaks, that costs a lot to fix, doesn’t have immediate benefit (cost avoidance never does) but when it does leak it’s disastrous.

This article rounds up much of what these pages have pointed out for several years, including the Ponemon Institute/IBM study from earlier this week, the Chinese/Russian connections behind Big Hacks not only for selling data, but also IP [TTA 26 Aug 14] and how decidedly easy it is to hack devices and equipment [TTA 10 May 14]. Acknowledgement that healthcare data security is about 20 years behind finance and defense deserves a ‘hooray!’, but when you realize that on average only 3 percent of HIT spend is on security when it should be a minimum of 10 percent (HIMSS) or higher…yet the choice may be better security or uncompensated patient care particularly in rural areas, what will it be for many healthcare organizations?

The article also doesn’t go far enough in the devil’s dilemma–that the Federal Government with Medicare, HITECH, meaningful use, rural telehealth and programs like Medicare Shared Savings demand more and more data tracking, sharing and response mechanisms, stretching HIT 15 ways from sundown. At the cutely named Health Datapalooza presently going on in Washington DC, data sharing is It for Quality Care, or else. Yet the costs to smaller healthcare providers to prevent that ER readmission scenario through new care models such as PCMHs and ACOs is stunning. And the consequences may be more consolidated, less available healthcare. We are already seeing merger rumors in the insurer area and scaledowns/shutdowns/buyouts of community health organizations including smaller hospitals and clinics. Also iHealthBeat.

DARPA to the rescue? The folks who brought you the Internet may develop a solution, but it won’t be tomorrow or even the day after. The Brandeis Program is a several stage project over 4.5 years to determine how “to enable information systems that would allow individuals, enterprises and U.S. government agencies to keep personal and/or proprietary information private.” It discards the current methodology of filtering data (de-identification) or trusting third-parties to secure. Armed With Science  FedBizOpps has the broad agency announcement in addition to vendor solicitation information.

Telehealth reimbursement makes legislative progress in Texas, US House

In Texas, telehealth reimbursement as part of the state Medicaid program passed their House resoundingly (120 to 5!) and moved to the state Senate. (In Texas, if your bill makes it through the scrum that is their House, the Senate moves expeditiously.)  HB (House Bill) 2641 would authorize Texas’ Health & Human Services Commission (HHSC) to extend reimbursement for home telemonitoring (telehealth) services under the state Medicaid program from September this year for four years. Health care providers in Medicaid would be reimbursed for review and transmission of electronic health information. The caveat of course is that it is ‘feasible and cost effective’–it is designed to be expenditure neutral. The bill also includes extensive stipulations on health information exchanges based on national standards (ANSI) as well as amending the health and safety code for immunizations and other health conditions. The ‘criminal offense’ pertains to protected health information breaches as a misdemeanor. Telehealth inclusion in Medicaid is positive as this state insurance plan serves the poorest and often sickest, as well as many federal Medicare ‘dual eligibles’. Texas, being a large state, also sets trends (including the most reluctant to adopt cross-state telemedicine licensure.)  Text of HB2641

Would that telehealth reimbursement have the same chance in that large, exceedingly deliberative body called the US House of Representatives. HR2066, the Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2015, is similar to a bill that expired in committee in the last session. It was introduced (more…)

Nursing homes vs. hospitals for primary senior care

Another way to reduce unnecessary hospitalizations? A recent New York Times article has kicked off a debate on whether many procedures for older adults can be better delivered in a nursing home or skilled nursing facility (SNF) setting rather than in-patient hospitals. Already serving many seniors for rehabilitation and residential care for multiple chronic conditions and old age-related debilities, the dreaded transfer to hospital may be lessened by a combination of outpatient procedure and installation of 24-hour nursing at these homes. Unbelievably (to this Editor) many of the 16,000 nursing homes in the country do not have round-the-clock nursing staff; only five states require 24/7 registered nurse coverage on site and there is no Federal requirement. An advantage is that minimizing hospital stay also minimizes hospital-acquired infections, patient distress (more…)

A good week for telehealth in Senate committee hearings (US)

In contrast to last week’s deletion of telemedicine by the House Energy and Commerce committee from  ’21st Century Cures’, this past Tuesday’s Senate Commerce subcommittee on Communications hearing was far more cheering for both telehealth and telemedicine advocates. More than twelve Senators spoke on behalf of telehealth expansion, especially Medicare reimbursement for telehealth in rural areas where there is limited care access. Holding this expansion back, according to iHealthBeat, are four factors: the limited cross-state licensing for physicians; the sluggishness of the Federal Communications Commission–despite initiatives such as Connect2HealthFCC [TTA 6 Mar 14], the FCC has blocked subsidies for nursing home broadband; reimbursement and limited broadband access in the same rural areas (more…)