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Telehealth Predictions for 2017

January 03, 2017 | Mario Gutierrez, Center for Connected Health Policy. | A version of this blog post was first sent as an alert from the Center for Connected Health Policy.

There are many questions about the future of health care policy and legislation in the coming year with the incoming Trump administration and Congress. But when it comes to telehealth, PHI Center for Connected Health Policy Director Mario Gutierrez believes there are some strong signals that there may be some real movement in this arena in the coming months. 

Already we’ve seen Congress enact two important pieces of legislation in the lame duck session related to connected care, and I believe that these serve as a bellwether of more to come. It was very encouraging, for example, that after years of contentious negotiation, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act (HR 34) and was signed by President Obama. This Bill, remarkably states that it is the “sense of Congress” that… “ any expansion of telehealth services under the Medicare Program should recognize that telemedicine is the delivery of safe, effective, quality health care services, by a health care provider, using technology as the mode (emphasis added) of care delivery”. It also calls for CMS to provide Congress with a detailed report related to telehealth within the Medicare Program within one year of enactment.

Also passed by unanimous vote of Congress was the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act (S. 2873). This bill places University of New Mexico’s five-year-old groundbreaking Project ECHO on a national stage. This project sets the wheels in motion for a national network of hub-and-spoke telemedicine platforms to provide education, training and collaboration opportunities for healthcare providers in hard-to-reach areas.

Now granted, this is not the first time that Congress has kicked the can down the road with requests for studies as opposed to real action. I believe Tom Price to be key in the 2017 alignment of bipartisan leadership in Congress that clearly has the will and desire to accomplish tasks related to telehealth and Medicare.

There are also a number of other key players that I believe will have an impact on the telehealth market: Fred Upton, (R- Mich), newly elected Chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, and other House members such as Doris Matsui (D-CA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Gregg Harper (R-MS). On the Senate side: Brian Schatz (D-HI), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and John Thune (R-SD). I predict this wave of momentum will bring additional telehealth policy reforms in the coming year.

In fact, on December 6th, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D- OR), along with the Committee’s Chronic Care Working Group leads Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), introduced S. 3504, the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act. This includes provisions for the expanded use of telehealth in accountable care organizations (ACOs), Medicare Advantage, and for treating strokes. It would also improve care coordination in ACOs and allow Medicare Advantage plans to tailor benefits to beneficiaries with chronic diseases. Also ready to be reintroduced is the CONNECT for Health Act (S. 2484) by Senator Schatz, which calls for the removal of significant restrictions in the use of telehealth in Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plans as well.

And, now with Congressman Tom Price, (R-GA), the “telehealth friendly” nominee to be head of Health and Human Services (HHS), I along with other telehealth advocates in the country believe that 2017 may be the year that the federal government finally joins the rest of the world in embracing the benefits of connected care to improve access and quality, respond to the needs of the consumer, and gain greater efficiencies of the limited resources we have to meet the growing healthcare needs of our population.

The Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) is the federally funded, National Telehealth Policy Resource Center. CCHP is a program of the Public Health Institute and was created in 2008 by the California Health Care Foundation. Learn more at www.cchpca.org.

Mario Gutierrez is Executive Director of PHI's Center for Connected Health Policy.