Powerhouse DC lobbying for telehealth, telemedicine

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/gimlet-eye.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The Gimlet Eye observes from a houseboat anchored at a remote Pacific island, with coconuts and occasional internet to Editor Donna.

Telehealth and telemedicine have reached a US milestone of sorts: the formation of a Washington, DC-based ‘advocacy’ (a/k/a lobbying) group constituted as a business non-profit. The Alliance for Connected Care is headed by three former Senators (two of whom were ‘amigos’) from both sides of the aisle and backed by a board including the expected (giants Verizon, WellPoint, CVS Caremark, Walgreens)–and the surprising (much smaller remote consult provider Teladoc and HealthSpot, the developer of the HealthSpot Station kiosk–hmmm, must be a fair chunk of their marketing budgets there) flanked by six well known ‘associate members’ including Cardinal Health and Care Innovations (another hmmm). There’s also a hefty ‘advisory board‘ including the American Heart Association and the NAHC (home care). The leadership team members are all members of major Washington law/lobbying firms. Tom Daschle is recognized as one of the most influential former Senators in town via DLA Piper, though himself not a registered lobbyist (OpenSecrets.org). Trent Lott and John Breaux hung out their own shingle and were recently bought by mega-lobbyist Patton Boggs. To put a fine point on it, more high-powered one does not get. The Eye sees that the time is prime for the Big Influence and…

What the Eye sees is Big Financial Stakes: Private insurers are required to cover telehealth in 20 states, as does Medicaid in most. The VA is a major user. But the great big trough of Medicare is new territory; covering 16 percent of the population, the use of telemedicine and telehealth is limited to certain geographic areas. (MedCityNews) This marks the infamous tipping point: the clarion call to ‘build significant and high-level support for Connected Care among leaders in Congress and the Administration’, ‘enable more telehealth to support new models of care’ and ‘establish a non-binding, standardized definition of Connected Care through federal level multi stakeholder-input process’ (whew!) Big companies want in, insurers want reimbursement, and they want it from somewhere as well. Toto, we’re not in the Kansas of Small anymore with ‘connected health’–we are now in the Oz of Big Money and Power Players. Alliance release (Oddly the website looks preliminary despite the big announcement and backing.)

More on this strategy: It’s called ‘soft lobbying’ and it is the latest thing in the Influence Wars. The Alliance for Connected Care is a 501(c)6 non-profit, similar to a business league like the Chamber of Commerce, and this has become a popular tactic. It’s also a less regulated, less transparent way to shape coverage, public opinion and exert influence on legislators. See this well-timed examination from the Washington Post on the corn syrup versus table sugar wars. ‘Soft lobbying’ war between sugar, corn syrup shows new tactics in Washington influence

Telemedicine in the TIME Swampland

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/blue-blazes.jpg” thumb_width=”175″ /]TIME’s ‘Swampland’ section may be referring to the original siting of Washington, DC on reclaimed swamp land off the Potomac River, but this swampy article ultimately struggles to solid land. You will have to meander through the UVA Center for Telehealth, the Center for Connected Health Policy, WellPoint, the Institute for e-Health Policy and of course Partners Healthcare’s cardiac program [TTA 27 Aug] before addressing the real problem: the desirability of broader telemedicine reimbursement and a consistent policy in US Federal programs such as Medicare and Federally-subsidized Medicaid administered through the states. Currently Medicare reimbursement is restricted to specific rural areas, Native American territories/Indian Health Service, and of course the often-mentioned mess of cross-state physician licensing. However, the Accountable Care Act is not going to be the savior as its implementation is hardly going smoothly. Earlier CMS policies on 30-day same cause readmissions have had far more impact. There is the to-be-expected muddling of telemedicine (virtual consults) and telehealth (monitoring)–and robotics gets a ‘say wot?’ mention. The kicker is the headline and accompanying picture:

“Saving U.S. Health Care With Skype”

Skype, while used in ‘telemental health’ [TTA 11 May], is not HIPAA-compliant for patient privacy.  Were TIME’s famed fact-checkers asleep? 

Hat tip (and thanks) to reader Bob Pyke.