American Telemedicine Association’s policy duo, Jonathan Linkous, CEO, and Gary Capistrant, Senior Director of Public Policy, return with updates and new information regarding telemedicine.
Federal Policy Summit
On June 27, Linkous and Capistrant attended the Federal Policy Summit, a conference in which several issues regarding telemedicine were discussed. “It’s a great time to be having this Federal Telehealth Policy Summit, because we’re on the verge of an explosion of opportunities for telehealth, not necessarily things directly or specifically for telehealth but a lot of opportunities for change in the healthcare marketplace,” says Capistrant. Several key political figures attended the summit as well, such as Congressman Mike Thompson, Congressman Gregg Harper, and Congressman Glenn Thompson, all of whom spoke about telehealth and telemedicine. Each Congressman has contributed to the success of telehealth and continues to do so politically. Several pieces of legislation are currently in the works with the idea of positively changing telehealth in mind.
Four leaders of key federal agencies were in attendance as well. These leaders include the Health Resources and Services Administration (HERSA), the Federal Communications Commissioner, the head of the FDA on medical device and the leader in telehealth at the Veterans Affairs Department.
Along with these speakers, there were three different panels dealing with three specific aspects of telehealth. These panels include patient panels, health players and providers, and telecommunication providers. Other issues that are going to be heavily discussed include the FCC’s health care connect program and its opportunities such as the billion dollar funding opportunity that was previously discussed in last month’s installment of This Month in Telemedicine; along with the Nation Institute of Standards and Technology to review standards and guidelines.
Congressman Harper is currently working on a bill that was planning to be introduced in time for the summit, however it is not yet ready. “The idea is to create a package that both Democrat and Republican congressmen and senators can line up and support and create the kind of political support through it that the congressional budget office will actually estimate the cost of it,” says Capistrant. The bill borrows most of the provisions from the Mike Thompson legislation to fit into existing payment innovations. There are also improvements regarding Medicare. This bill focuses on dealing with the 104 counties that lost their Medicaid coverage due to the fact that they are no longer considered metropolitan areas. The goal is to get Medicaid back into metropolitan areas and then accomplish the specific goal of getting Telehealth into the home.
The idea of this package is, “to have it ready for much more serious consideration later this fall when Congress has to deal with the physician payment reform issue” says Capistrant.
There has been previous discussion of a bill being put together by Congressman Nunes of California about allowing Medicare beneficiaries to be served by someone across the state line without that provider being licensed in both places. However, an early draft of the bill contained a doctor patient relationship requirement which the ATA opposes. This particular legislation has not yet been formally introduced.
Affordable Care Act
There are certain dates coming up regarding the Affordable Care Act. On October 1, states will be offered state based health insurance exchanges, although actual coverage begins in January. The ATA estimates that around 14 million people will participate in that new coverage. There are also hopes that telemedicine will be a part of that coverage. January 1 is a very important day for Medicaid enrollment, as the ATA estimates that half of the states that will be opting in to expand Medicaid coverage. Key states such as Ohio and Arizona are still debating it; however if they do there will be an estimated 20 million people on the roll with Medicaid. At the end of the year there will be a “doc fix”, or a bill that is looked at every year called “The Sustainable Growth Rate Bill”. “Congress has pledged to really do something this year, of course they say that every year but this year they really mean it. Several members have told us that if they go through a change that telemedicine is going to be an important part of it,” says Linkous.
ATA Service Provider Forum
The ATA Service Provider Forum is a special meeting that will take place prior to the Federal Policy Summit. “There is a new group coming out of our industry council for industry council members. So many of our companies traditionally have been medical device companies, but now the world has changed,” says Linkous. There are many companies involved in providing direct services as well as specialty consoles to emergency rooms, monitoring services, as well provide web based consultations. This forum serves as a way to discuss this growing field, and will open for the meeting. The ATA Board has also approved exploring the idea of doing accreditation of online web based consultation services.