In the weeks leading up to the 116th Congress, lawmakers are laying out general plans for expanding telemedicine payments. A few, along with CMS Administrator Seema Verma, dropped by a virtual-care themed symposium hosted by lobbying group the Alliance for Connected Care. Here are a few takeaways:
- Bill Johnson said he plans to advance legislation co-sponsored with Rep. Doris Matsui that could remove geographic and site restrictions on reimbursement for all Medicare codes. A version of that bill passed as part of the opioid package, but it only waives restrictions for care related to substance use disorder.
“The providers want it, the technology is there,” Johnson said, noting that the major barriers to widespread telehealth access are physician licensing and reimbursement. “There is absolutely no reason why in Timbuktu, rural Appalachia, you can’t get access to a world-class heart surgeon over telehealth.”
Johnson—a member of House Energy and Commerce who’s also part of the Congressional Telehealth Caucus—plans to examine broadband coverage next session, he said. He said he was encouraged by FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr’s Connected Care pilot program, a nascent concept for a fund that could support remote monitoring programs in rural areas.
- Anna Eshoo said Washington decision makers should focus on shrinking the gap between telemedicine coverage on Medicare Advantage plans and the original fee-for-service model.
Eshoo, a member of Energy and Commerce’s telecommunications subcommittee, also plans to work on increasing broadband connectivity; she introduced a bill this year mandating that broadband conduit pipes should be laid on roads and highways built on federal lands as they’re being built.
She noted that telemedicine advocates on Energy and Commerce who represent rural districts across the country will have “real opportunities on both sides of the aisle.”
- Roger Wicker, a member of the Commerce Committee and its telecommunications subcommittee, also plans to prioritize broadband deployment. Last year he introduced the SPEED Act, which would expedite the permitting for that process, along with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, though the measure stalled in the Committee on Environment and Public Works.