A newly introduced bill aimed at expanding the use of telemedicine in the Medicare system would allow reimbursable telehealth services for physical therapy and permit use of the technology in more populated areas.
Called the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2014 (.pdf), the bill introduced by Reps Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Gregg Harper (R-MI) would gradually roll out changes over 4 years. The changes would eventually remove current limits on the population areas that qualify for Medicare's telehealth reimbursements, allow for much-expanded remote patient monitoring, and include rural health clinics as approved telehealth care sites.
Another important feature of the bill: a provision that outpatient therapy services, including physical therapy, delivered via telehealth technologies would be reimbursable under Medicare.
Although Medicare currently allows some telehealth delivery, the system limits reimbursable use to rural areas, and requires beneficiaries to travel to "originating sites," with no provisions for remote patient monitoring. The proposed bill would use a phased-in approach to remove those population-based limits and allow the addition of remote patient monitoring for specific conditions. The bill also requires the General Accountability Office to study the use of remote patient monitoring for outpatient therapy.
This year, APTA's House of Delegates approved a resolution that supports the adoption of telehealth technologies in physical therapy as "an appropriate model of service delivery" when provided in ways that are "consistent with association positions, standards, guidelines, policies, procedures, Standards of Practice for Physical Therapy, Code of Ethics for the Physical Therapist, Standards of Ethical Conduct for the Physical Therapist Assistant, the Guide to Physical Therapist Practice, and APTA Telehealth Definitions and Guidelines; as well as federal, state, and local regulations."
APTA will monitor this bill and alert members on its progress.
APTA offers resources on telehealth in physical therapy—including a link to Board of Directors definition and guidelines--on its telehealth webpage.
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