In a move that could greatly expand the visibility and adoption of telehealth systems, Congress is proposing that Medicare reimburse telehealth services at the same rate as in-person medical visits. 

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Health began circulating a draft that would expand reimbursement for telehealth services that address unmet needs, substitute for an in-person visit, reduce hospital readmissions or enable a person to move to a “lower level of care.” 

The draft leaves space for later versions to include more specific criteria for meeting these requirements.

Insurance coverage has been practically non-existent for telehealth services to date, but observers believe if Medicare starts offering coverage, private payers would follow. 

Some commercial payers are already waking up to its potential, says Aaron Carlock, managing director for Chicago-based Huron Healthcare’s IT solution Vonlay.

Long-term care is actually a strategic and logical setting for telehealth, says Jonathan Shankman, senior vice president of clinical innovation for New York-based AMC Health.

“There are certain advantages providing telehealth in a senior living residence,” he says, “because all the resources are in place that aren’t in the patient’s private home.”