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Medicare could become a much more welcoming place for telehealth services if Congress passes two pieces of legislation recently introduced in the US House of Representatives.

The tow separate bills would have the combined effect of expanding where and how telehealth services can take place, which patients are permitted to receive the services, and the list of health care professional who can provide the services—a list that includes physical therapists (PTs).

The bills—one called the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act, and a second known as the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act—propose changes to the way Medicare handles a number of issues, from remote monitoring of patients with chronic conditions, to a reworked definition of reimbursable telehealth codes. In addition, the parity act expands the list of providers who can provide telehealth services to PTs, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists (OTs), speech language pathologists, and audiologists, while the CONNECT act would allow PTs in some bundled payment arrangements, accountable care organizations (ACOs), and Medicare Advantage plans to participate in telehealth arrangements.

APTA has joined the American Occupational Therapy Association, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and American Medical Association, and other health care organizations in support of both bills. Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA), Gregg Harper (R-MS), Diane Black (R-TN), and Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced the bills, and have also created the first congressional telehealth caucus. The CONNECT act was introduced in the Senate earlier in May.

Provisions in the parity act include:

  • Removing geographic barriers to provide telehealth services in rural, underserved, and metropolitan areas
  • Expanding the list of providers eligible to provide telehealth services to include PTs, OTs, and speech language pathologists, among others
  • Expanding access to telestroke services
  • Allowing remote patient monitoring for those with chronic conditions including heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes
  • Allowing a beneficiary's home to serve as a site of care for home dialysis, hospice care, eligible outpatient mental health services, and home health services

The CONNECT act's changes include:

  • Expansion of telehealth in ACOs, Medicare Advantage, and stroke treatment programs
  • Expansion of remote monitoring programs for people with chronic conditions
  • Definitions of reimbursable telehealth codes
  • Expansion of remote patient monitoring programs at community health centers and rural clinics

APTA government affairs staff will continue to track the progress of the legislation.

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