Lawmakers have reached an agreement to provide an emergency funding package of $8.3 billion to aid the United States’ response to the coronavirus crisis. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law last Friday. The funds will go towards treating and preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Telehealth capabilities like remote patient monitoring (RPM), voice calls, and video conferencing offer an efficient, effective way for healthcare providers to combat pandemics like the coronavirus. The Connected Health Initiative (CHI) recently sent letters to U.S. House and Senate leadership requesting that federal law be amended to ease the use of telehealth technology during this emergency.
Dogtown Media is proud to sign and support this letter.
Striving to Make Telehealth Available for Everyone
CHI is an initiative of ACT | The App Association. It’s a coalition of medical and digital health ecosystem partners seeking policy changes that allow providers to harness the power of technology to improve patient engagement and outcomes. Members of the committee include tech titans like Apple and Microsoft, pharmaceutical companies such as Roche Holding AG, numerous healthcare centers, and medical tech developers like Dogtown Media.
The global coronavirus outbreak has been undeniably tragic to watch unfold. Members of CHI also see it as a warning that we must rectify current telehealth usage capabilities before other health emergencies occur. Because the coronavirus spreads via face-to-face contact, academic institutions, companies like Twitter, and even government organizations like the SEC have now urged their members to stay home and work there if possible.
This poses a problem for healthcare providers; not only are they tasked with treating patients, but they are also focused on stymying the spread of the virus by encouraging those affected to stay home. Telehealth like voice and video communication are indispensable in helping these efforts. But the laws governing these technologies for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) make it cumbersome to leverage telehealth capabilities.
In its regulations, the CMS does provide an incentive mechanism for payment to clinicians using telehealth. But a number of substantial barriers impede its use. For example, CMS usually requires a 20% copay on monthly RPM services, which a patient must pay. In its letter, CHI has urged Congress to waive this copay requirement during the COVID-19 crisis so that RPM systems can be deployed as quickly as possible.
People over 65 years of age (the main category of Medicare patients) carry a high risk of contracting the coronavirus. Clearly, voice and video tech, as well as RPM capabilities, offer clinicians an avenue to stay up-to-date on patient status and treat them safely.
When asked about the response from Congress, Morgan Reed, CHI’s Executive Director, says the group has received “uniformly positive feedback.”
Preparing for Future Health Emergencies
Besides waiving the copay requirement during the coronavirus pandemic, CHI has also asked Congress to incorporate legislation that waives telehealth reimbursement restrictions during future national emergencies. Rather than revisit these barriers during the next crisis, Congress should completely remove these restrictions. It would be in the best interests of public health.
“We got into the situation because we didn’t solve this over the years that we have been asking Congress to solve this problem of preventing telemedicine from being reimbursed,” Reed explains. “Our response today is two-fold: One, solve the immediate problem to help with the coronavirus, and that is with real-time voice and video and remote patient monitoring. Two, how do we solve for the next crisis?”
Sources close to the negotiations say that lawmakers have agreed to include a provision that enables the Secretary of the Health and Human Services Department to waive certain telehealth restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak. This would let Medicare providers give telehealth services to beneficiaries, regardless of if they’re located in a rural area. This provision is estimated to cost $500 million.
We hope to see more positive change enacted soon. Medical emergencies like COVID-19 must be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. When public health is on the line, there is no time for debate. Action must be taken so that everyone from Los Angeles to New York City can receive the proper care and treatment they need during a crisis like the coronavirus.
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