Telemedicine bill could aid home health providers, Jeffords says

By MATTHEW HAY

HHBR Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON – Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-VT) has introduced bipartisan legislation that would simplify federal regulations for and enhance the delivery of telemedicine services targeted at senior citizens living in rural areas. The legislation would amend Medicare rules to increase coverage of the costs of telemedicine. Last year, Medicare only covered 6% of all telemedicine doctor-patient visits with senior citizens and disabled persons.

Jeffords, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, introduced the Telehealth Improvement and Modernization Act with Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) and eleven other cosponsors on May 4.

The National Association for Home Care (NAHC; Washington) quickly endorsed the bill and said it would give home health providers the flexibility to provide cost- effective and quality home care visits within the prospective payment system.

"By better utilizing high technology, we should not only be able to increase the quality of healthcare, but also increase efficiency and see cost savings," Jeffords said. He noted that more than 25% of the nation’s senior citizens live in rural America and said his legislation streamlines federal regulations to help better utilize telemedicine programs.

Jeffords’ bill also eliminates several current provider requirements and clarifies current law to permit telehomecare visits under the home health PPS. He said telehomecare should not be prohibited. "Where home health providers are paid on a prospective basis, nothing prevents them from incorporating telehomecare where appropriate into their care plans," said Jeffords.

He said that part of the problem in getting greater coverage for beneficiaries is that the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA; Baltimore) has misinterpreted federal laws and imposed cumbersome rules.

According to the NAHC, Jeffords’ bill also mandates that a telehomecare visit for a low utilization payment adjustment, outlier payment, or therapy service cannot be used as a substitute for in-person visits for purposes of establishing coverage and payment under PPS.

The bill would also allow limited reimbursement for referring clinics to recover the cost of their services and allow all providers eligible for HCFA to receive reimbursement for services delivered via telemedicine.