Black’s bill to improve Medicare through better access to telehealth passes committee

The House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday approved bipartisan legislation to strengthen Medicare, including a bill led by U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) to expand access to telehealth services for Medicare enrollees.

The bill, the Increasing Telehealth Access to Medicare Act, H.R. 3727, passed the committee with unanimous support. Black, who serves as House Budget Committee chairman, and U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), introduced the bill. It would allow telehealth services to be included in Medicare Advantage plans as a basic benefit, rather than a supplemental service for seniors.

“Telehealth focuses on harnessing innovative technology to increase convenience for patients and caregivers, enhance the quality of care and save both patients and the Medicare program money. In Tennessee’s rural communities, the wider offering of telehealth services means more access to care,” said Black, a former nurse.

Traditional Medicare plans currently only cover telehealth services in specific circumstances, such as when the beneficiary resides in a qualified rural area and is physically present in a hospital. Black’s bill would reform Medicare Advantage and facilitate cost savings. Black said estimates have shown a telehealth consultation can save the Medicare program $45 versus an in-person visit.

“For patients in suburban and urban communities throughout the state, telehealth offers the benefit of reducing the number of in-person visits to health care providers,” she said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said the legislation from Black and other committee-approved bills deliver targeted solutions to improve Medicare for patients, an important priority for health care policy.

“This common sense legislation will improve patient outcomes, increase efficiency for providers, and reduce health care costs for beneficiaries and taxpayers,” Brady said during opening remarks at the markup of the legislation.

The Ways and Means Committee also approved two other bipartisan health care-related bills on Wednesday. Those include the Stark Administrative Simplification Act of 2017, H.R. 3726, which would modernize Medicare’s physician self-referral laws, known as “Stark Laws.” In addition, the Comprehensive Operations, Sustainability, and Transport Act of 2017, H.R. 3729, would extend the current-law add-on payment for ground ambulance transport program for Medicare beneficiaries.