Senate budget agreement includes telehealth expansion and Meaningful Use reform
A two-year bipartisan budget deal announced by Senate
leaders on Wednesday includes provisions to expand telehealth coverage and
scale back Meaningful Use regulations.
The House of Representatives addressed the same issues in
its short-term funding bill approved earlier this week that would have provided
federal funding for a six-week period and averted a partial government shutdown
by midnight on Thursday.
The Senate’s bill is far more expansive and features a slew
of healthcare extenders, including $6 billion in funding for mental health
issues and opioid addiction, $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health
and a four-year extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The deal
still must pass through the House where Democrats are pushing Republicans on a
commitment to protect immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
“The budget deal doesn’t have everything Democrats want; it
doesn’t have everything the Republicans want, but it has what the American
people need,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Wednesday.
But the bill includes health IT sweeteners like the CHRONIC
Care Act, which builds telehealth benefits into Medicare Advantage plans
beginning in 2020. The spending bill would also allow accountable care
organizations to expand the use of telehealth by allowing a patient’s home to
be considered an originating site. Telestroke service would also get a boost
beginning in 2019.
Telehealth expansion has received bipartisan support in
Congress. Lack of reimbursement has been a longstanding concern among providers
and industry groups and a frequently cited a barrier to adoption.
Like the House bill, Senate leaders included legislation
sponsored by Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D., R-Texas, that would strike portions
of the HITECH Act to prevent Meaningful Use requirements from becoming more
complex moving forward.
That regulatory change has received backing from health IT
associations, including the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). Jeff
Smith, AMIA's vice presidents of public policy, said the bill would give the
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services more control over policy tied to
health IT adoption and allow the agency to be more responsive to industry
Thanks to FierceHealthcare for this information