Federal laws are preventing the elderly from accessing care via telehealth services, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said in a new report to Congress.
The 47-page analysis, mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act, noted that less than 1% of fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries used telehealth services in 2016. Myriad barriers exist to these services’ expansion, including the program only covering virtual visits if the beneficiary is located in a rural area with a shortage of providers.
It also notes that many Medicare recipients live in skilled nursing facilities without a physician onsite 24 hours, increasing the risk of unnecessary hospitalizations. The analysis noted that hospital readmissions among SNF residents cost Medicare more than $4 billion annually. A previous study found that on average, Medicare could save $151,000 per nursing home per year if SNFs used telehealth. In 2015, the Medicare program spent about $29 billion on SNF care.
Advocacy group Health IT Now Friday said Friday that the report makes a strong case for passage of the RUSH (Reducing Unnecessary Senior Hospitalization) Act, proposed by elected officials over the summer. A bipartisan group of representatives introduced new legislation in July, which would allow physicians to consult nursing homes via video, in the hopes of reducing costly and unnecessary hospitalizations or emergency room visits.
Health IT Now said it is making passage of the RUSH Act its top priority during the current Congress’ last days.
“The agency should put its findings into action by joining us in calling for swift passage of this sorely needed legislation during the current ‘lame-duck’ session,” said Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White. “Presented with clear findings directly from CMS, lawmakers should have no reason to dither on advancing this worthy solution.”
In a speech last week, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said that fostering innovation, and spreading the use of telehealth, is a key priority for the agency.