Despite ongoing debates over the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Republicans and Democrats do have a good track record of working together on certain bills to improve healthcare delivery.
One example is the bipartisan passage of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. This act reformed Medicare’s physician payment system, which better synchs payment to a more coordinated and efficient system of care.
And in more recent news, Senate Bill 870 – known as the CHRONIC Act – was passed in the Senate by a unanimous vote. If passed by the House and signed into law then this bill will expand telehealth coverage in several key Medicare programs. It will also expand the use of telehealth for the End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Program, stroke and dialysis patients, and will loosen regulations for Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs).
Medicare beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions typically use more services than those without multiple conditions. Emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and the eventual need for long-term services and support escalate healthcare expenditures.
The goal of the CHRONIC Act is to improve disease management, lower Medicare costs, and streamline care coordination services without adding to the mounting healthcare deficit. And the passage of this bill can be a step forward to help support decision makers at big hospitals who are looking at ways to reach more patients and decrease costs.
Take for instance dialysis patients who need to schedule a monthly in-person appointment with their doctor. With the expansion of telehealth under this bill, dialysis patients can conduct e-visits from home instead of the monthly visit, so long as they visit their provider in-person every three months. This will be especially helpful for patients who reside in rural areas and must travel long distances to visit their provider.
Eliminating the number of monthly visits among dialysis patients is just one example that will substantially decrease healthcare costs. The use of telehealth and video conferencing technologies can also be used to help prevent ER and re-hospitalization visits, and reduce patient wait times.
Instead of making the trek to an ER and enduring a long wait time to see a doctor, patients can connect with a provider face-to-face in real-time regarding their condition right from home. From here, the provider can determine the best appropriate course of action for the patient.
We’ve seen the growth of telehealth in recent years have a positive impact on the healthcare system as a whole. Telehealth and video conferencing technologies have even been used to provide better-specialized care, including specialists from across the globe who can view surgeries in real-time and communicate face-to-face with surgical teams to reduce the rates of infant blindness.
The expansion of telehealth under the CHRONIC Act will open up the door for more streamlined quality care for Medicare patients who suffer from certain chronic conditions. This will also help decision maker’s at large hospitals in their continual quest to decrease costs and improve quality of care. In the meantime, we are watching this closely as it goes to the House, and if it goes into law, it will be interesting to see the impact to care across the spectrum.