It may be old news that the pandemic fueled the growth of telehealth and Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM), but all signs point to it being a permanent fixture of healthcare moving forward.
Congressional Support for Telehealth Continues
In early March, Congress passed its 2022 $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill, including numerous investments in expanding telehealth coverage. The telehealth provisions include:
- 5 months of extended coverage of telehealth reimbursement under relaxed restrictions approved during the public health emergency;
- Expansion of reimbursable telehealth services, including adding occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and audiology to the list of covered telehealth services under Medicare; and
- Creation of a commission responsible for studying the use of telehealth, including its impact on quality of care.
Temporary Expansion on the Way to Permanent
While some of the provisions in the spending bill are temporary extensions, many experts believe this signals a positive move towards a permanent expansion of telehealth as a covered healthcare service. Telehealth support has been bipartisan. Many individuals, including Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) CEO, David J. Skorton, MD., believe these programs have successfully “promoted the health of patients, communities, and the nation” and “improved access to care for people nationwide.”
While some have raised concerns about the limited availability of broadband in rural communities and how that affects patients’ access to telehealth services that require an internet connection, the $65 billion committed to broadband expansion in the 2021 infrastructure package is one way Congress is working to improve telehealth access in these areas.
Support from Industry and Patients
Permanent coverage for telehealth has widespread support from lobbyists as well as patients themselves. A McKinsey study found 81 percent of patients would prefer to use digital tools to monitor health data. While the actual number of patients using digital tools for that purpose is much lower, Insider Intelligence estimates that about 30 million US patients (11 percent of the population) will use remote patient monitoring (RPM) by 2024, which would be a 28 percent increase from 2020. Furthermore, commercial insurers continue to expand coverage of RPM-based to continue lowering the costs of healthcare overall.
The growth is justified as clinical research studies continue to show clear linkages between the use of remote patient monitoring and improved outcomes, including lower blood pressure, better management of blood sugar, and more. In fact, Senator Mark Warner referred to telehealth as “one of the few good things to come out of COVID.”
Telehealth and Value-Based Care
Interestingly, one potential concern raised by experts is that the continued expansion of telehealth as a fee-for-service reimbursable service could inhibit incentives for value-based care. Value-based care has tremendous potential for reducing healthcare spending while improving outcomes, but studies have been mixed, particularly on outcomes. Does expanding reimbursement for telehealth indicate reduced congressional interest in value-based care? Or are they two different ways to achieve similar goals – achieving better outcomes with lower costs?
Telehealth and RPM are Here to Stay
There are still many details, including which specific services are covered for telehealth at what rates, that still need to be ironed out by Congress before telehealth reimbursement becomes permanent law. However, all signs are positive that telehealth, including RPM, is here to stay.
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