The Senate has recently unveiled a bipartisan bill that would make access to telehealth services easier for patients enrolled in Medicare.

The Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) Health Act of 2019 is being endorsed by more than 100 other organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA),and was introduced by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Ben Cardin, D-Md., John Thune, R-S.D., Mark Warner, D-Va., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss.

“This legislation would benefit patients by removing antiquated restrictions in the Medicare program that prevent physicians from using widely available medical technology that has become commonplace in the past decade. Increased access to telehealth is urgently needed to help meet the health needs of the swiftly changing demographics of our senior population,” said AMA President Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA.

Statutory restrictions such as geographic and originating-site requirements allow Medicare patients to get telehealth services only if they live in certain rural areas or receive care from particular clinical sites, creating barriers and contributing to only 0.25% of Medicare patients using telehealth services. 

The expansion of the CONNECT for Health Act also invites increased investment and innovation in the delivery redesign, benefiting all patients. According to a bill summary provided by its authors, among other things, the legislation would:

  • Give the Health and Human Services Secretary authority to waive telehealth restrictions when certain criteria are met.

  • Remove geographic restrictions and add the home as an originating site for mental health services.

  • Remove geographic restrictions on certain originating sites for emergency medical care services.

  • Require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ process to add telehealth services to better consider how telehealth can improve access to care.

  • Remove geographic restrictions on federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and rural health clinics (RHCs) and allows FQHCs and RHCs to furnish telehealth services as distant sites.

  • Remove the geographic and originating-site restrictions for facilities of the Indian Health Service or Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems.

  • Allow for the waiver of telehealth restrictions during national and public health emergencies.

  • Allow for the use of telehealth in the recertification of a beneficiary for the hospice benefit.

  • Clarify that the provision of technologies to a Medicare beneficiary for the purpose of furnishing services using technology is not considered “remuneration” under fraud and abuse laws.

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