Congressional Interest in Health Information Technology Must Lead to Positive Action
Advances in information and communications technology continue to shape how health care is delivered and consumed. In order to ensure that we are realizing the full potential of these advances, it is vital that the United States have in place policies and practices that promote development in this important sector, including a regulatory framework that reduces barriers to innovation and provides predictability. Through legislative action, the United States Congress is in a unique position to ensure that patients receive all the benefits that 21st century health care allows. Indeed, the 113th Congress has seen a heightened interest in health information technology and flurry of activity focused on how to leverage these innovative and transformative technologies to improve health care.
On May 1st, House Energy & Commerce (E&C) Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) announced a new bipartisan initiative called “A Path to 21st Century Cures”, aimed at leveraging advances and innovation in technology to accelerate the pace of discovery, development, and delivery of cures in the United States. This multiyear effort includes roundtables, hearings, and white papers (on which TIA has already filed comments). In addition, in a separate but related effort, the House E&C Health Subcommittee has been holding hearings and requested comments on how 21st century technology can benefit patients (to which TIA also submitted comments). In TIA’s comments and advocacy efforts, our message is simple: remove artificial barriers to the adoption of telehealth, and promote great utilization of remote patient monitoring technologies. This week, the House E&C Subcommittees on Health and Communications and Technology will be holding a joint hearing entitled “21st Century Technology for 21st Century Cures”. In the press release for the hearing, Chairman Upton stressed the need to “update our laws to foster new technologies and harness the power of these innovations …” With so much attention being given to these issues, the time seems right for Congress to foster positive and substantive change, and pass much needed legislation.
The overall objective of the 21st Century Cures initiative and the effort going on in the Health Subcommittee is to come up with legislation that puts the best ideas together. While they continue the process of gathering information and ideas, here are a few bills already introduced or circulated that could see some movement in the coming months:
- VETS Act of 2013 (H.R. 2001): Currently with 70 bipartisan cosponsors, the VETS Act would allow a licensed healthcare professional authorized by the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide services via telemedicine regardless of where the patient is located.
- TELE-MED Act of 2013 (H.R. 3077): With 65 bipartisan cosponsors, the TELE-MED Act, like the VETS Act, would permit certain Medicare providers licensed in one state to provide telemedicine services to Medicare beneficiaries in a different state
- Telehealth Enhancement Act (H.R. 3306): With 21 bipartisan cosponsors, the Telehealth Enhancement Act is a more comprehensive bill that seeks to enhance the use of telehealth and telemedicine under Medicare and other Federal health care programs. A section-by-section summary from the bill’s authors can be found here.
- Better Care, Lower Cost Act (H.R. 3890/S. 1932): While this bill does not yet have significant support, Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden is an author of the senate version, and will be looking to move this bill forward. The Better Care, Lower Cost Act creates a Better Care Program within Medicare that would in part leverage telehealth and remote monitoring services to provide integrated care for Medicare beneficiaries with chronic conditions. A summary of this bill can be found here.
- SGR Reform: Despite months of bipartisan negotiations, Congress was forced to pass a one year patch until March 31, 2015, the 17th “doc fix”, to delay drastic cuts to doctors as part of the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR). Despite this setback, all parties are determined to permanently address this issue before the latest patch expires, and many view SGR reform as a vehicle to address outdated and burdensome regulations, and promote expanded use of health IT.
- Rep. Thompson Draft Bill: The office of Congressman Mike Thompson is currently drafting legislation to expand telehealth services under Medicare, including adding coverage for remote patient monitoring. The bill is tentatively titled the “Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2014”, and could be introduced in the coming weeks or months.