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Former senators create alliance to spur telehealth
February 12th, 2014
WASHINGTON – Three former U.S. senators have formed a coalition with companies focused on health care delivery — including the nation's largest drug chains — to promote policy reform around telehealth and remote patient monitoring.
A telehealth station from HealthSpot, one of the alliance's board members.
Former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle (D., S.D.) and Trent Lott (R., Miss.) and former Sen. John Breaux (D., La.) have launched the Alliance for Connected Care. The group aims to raise policymakers' awareness of advancements in telehealth technology and create a regulatory environment that broadens patient access to connected care and medical providers using these delivery methods.
The alliance defines "connected care" as real-time, digital communication between patients and health care providers, including through telehealth, remote patient monitoring and secure e-mail solutions.
The alliance's board members include CVS Caremark, Walgreens, Cardinal Health, Verizon, WellPoint, Teladoc, HealthSpot, Doctor on Demand, Welch Allyn, MDLIVE and Care Innovations.
Serving on the coalition's advisory board are the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Heart Association, Care Continuum Alliance, National Association of ACOs, Family Voices, Parkinson’s Action Network, Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness and National Association of Homecare & Hospice.
"Increased adoption and use of new and innovative technologies is at the core of many of the payment and delivery reforms being tested across the nation and is also central to increasing patient engagement. We must ensure that our regulatory environment appropriately balances the exciting advances in technology for patients while still maintaining safeguards that allow innovation," Daschle said in a statement. "To put it in perspective, the legal structure around telehealth was established in 2000 when cell phones were still just phones."
The former Senate leaders noted that advances in technology and broadband deployment have fostered new delivery models in health care settings nationwide in such areas as chronic disease management, specialty and primary health care, and mental health services.
"It is time to make connected care a bipartisan priority in Washington," Lott stated. "Imagine an elderly woman with diabetes who can consult a doctor about managing her disease without having to leave her home, or a working parent who can video chat with his child's pediatrician, or a patient in need of mental health services but too afraid to go to an office now able to access care through a laptop, or a doctor who can monitor a patient already discharged from the hospital. We must improve access to the kinds of innovation that can improve patients' lives."
Specifically, the alliance aims to expand patient access to telehealth services by removing geographic and site limitations to enable patients to communicate remotely with their providers regardless of location; ensure reimbursement of providers for the delivery of telehealth, regardless of payer; include telehealth, remote patient monitoring and other connected care technology in new models of care and payment, such as medical homes and accountable care organizations (ACOs); and establish a standard definition of safe, high-quality telehealth services and connected care.
And along with establishing the appropriate data security and privacy safeguards, the coalition will work to eliminate state regulatory and licensing barriers to the practice of telehealth that prohibit providers from furnishing these services across state lines.
The group noted that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has helped pioneer connected care, with almost a half-million veterans receiving more than 1.4 million remote care contacts during fiscal year 2012, according to the alliance. Commercial insurers, large employers and Medicaid are also much farther ahead in covering telehealth services than Medicare. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia require coverage of telehealth by commercial carrier, and 45 states allow reimbursement of telehealth services in Medicaid.
To date, policies and regulations have stressed keeping people out of the hospital with prevention, chronic disease management, care coordination and readmission penalties, yet government health care programs generally don't reimburse home health agencies for remote patient monitoring or pay for patients to check in with care providers from their homes via real-time video, the alliance pointed out.
"Despite this rapidly developing technology, and increasing interest among patients and physicians in using connected care tools, legal and regulatory barriers continue to limit mainstream acceptance of the technology," Breaux noted. "Fully realizing the promise of connected care demands urgency among policymakers to foster a regulatory structure that enables safe use of remote patient care technology."