Friday, February 9, 2018

Progress on telehealth part of two-year budget deal (plus, saving a rural Virginia hospital)

I noticed that Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii was touting today on Twitter a new law, the CHRONIC Care Act, that will facilitate telehealth.  The law, which was passed as part of the agreement to keep the federal government functioning, had bi-partisan support.  Senators from Mississippi to South Dakota to Maryland and Virginia to Hawaii sponsored it.  I am cutting and pasting here from Senator Schatz's website, dated today:
Today, the Senate voted to pass a two-year budget deal that includes the CHRONIC Care Act, legislation with key provisions authored by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) that will improve access and quality of care for Medicare patients and save taxpayer money. 
“Almost every other part of our health system uses technology to improve health and save costs. It’s long past time for Medicare to catch up,” Senator Schatz said. “This legislation will improve health outcomes for Medicare patients, especially those who live in rural areas or have to make a big effort to get to the doctor’s office, and will make sure that Medicare is ready for the future, when telehealth plays an even bigger role in health care. I’m glad that Congress is making a bipartisan effort to make sure no one gets left behind from the promises and benefits telehealth has to offer.” 
“Mississippi is a leader in the field of telehealth – increasing access to quality care and cutting costs to reach some of our state’s most rural and vulnerable patients,” Senator Wicker said. “If enacted, the provisions Senator Schatz and I have authored will help many Americans receive the health care they need.” 
According to studies, telehealth has been shown to improve care and patient satisfaction while reducing costs. The CHRONIC Care Act lifts outdated restrictions that limit Medicare from reimbursing for telehealth. The telehealth provisions of the CHRONIC Care Act will expand the use of telehealth in accountable care organizations and Medicare Advantage, as well as for home dialysis patients and the evaluation of an acute stroke. In addition to Senators Schatz and Wicker, the telehealth provisions of the CHRONIC Care Act were cosponsored in the CONNECT for Health Act by U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.).
When I Googled "telehealth" to find more information about the federal bill, I came across this Washington Post story from late January about the failed effort at Medicaid expansion in Virginia.  Here's the lede, dateline Richmond:
Senate Democrats on Tuesday backed off a threat to hold a bill related to a rural hospital hostage because its Republican sponsor wouldn’t agree to expand Medicaid, abandoning their hardball tactic at the urging of Gov. Ralph Northam (D). 
One week after a bloc of Democrats killed a bill intended to help the shuttered Patrick County hospital in Southwest Virginia, the Senate voted unanimously for an identical measure, which Sen. William Stanley (R-Franklin) filed just hours after the original had died. 
The about-face came after Northam urged Democrats to work with Stanley, perhaps signaling how seriously the new governor intends to make good on promises of cooperation on Capitol Square.
Hmmm.  Not sure whether to cheer or boo.  So, a state senator gets what he wants for his rural community, while so many others (including poor-ish rural folks) are hurt by the failure to expand Medicaid. 

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