When you step away from all of the tremendous advances in medicine over the past 50 years, the perspective reveals the contributions by the world’s most brilliant minds; it’s amazing to realize we’re living in an incredible time in history. These days, we have telehealth, remote monitoring and telemedicine to guide the way in all things related to elder care. Already, technology has made it possible for these advances to really play a significant role in the health and well-being of our loved ones. And if you’re still a few decades away from retirement and celebrating your senior years, imagine how advanced these technological advances will be then.
Last year, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced a bill, the Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2013, to enhance Medicaid and Medicare coverage opportunities, especially in rural areas, where it’s not uncommon to feel a bit isolated or to feel vulnerable knowing a doctor is miles away. Not surprising, the bill was introduced by a Mississippi Representative, where much of that state is deemed rural. Reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) authored the bill and while it doesn’t affect what’s already available, it does provide much better options for states to take advantage of those opportunities.
The team of Representatives wrote to their congressional contemporaries and explained, “These efforts began with a conversation about physician shortages and concerns with patients’ access to quality and affordable health care…Until we are able to attract more physicians to rural communities and tighten the access gap, the next best alternative is to use technology to connect health professionals with underserved populations – rural and urban – through telehealth networks.”
All of this important health information is linked to the appropriate Medicaid or Medicare office or insurance company. Think about that for a second: there are fewer opportunities for errors since there is less need for transcribing physician and nursing notes. A shorter turnaround time and powerful algorithms will enhance a pharmacist’s ability to recognize potential drug combination dangers. The benefits are endless.
Similar bills have already been signed into law with much success. One example is the Telemedicine Reimbursement Act of 2013, which was signed into law this summer by Washington DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray. This law requires private health insurers along with Medicaid, to cover healthcare services, even if they’re provided via the new technology. The sole caveat is that the same services would have been provided to the patient had that patient visited her doctor or been admitted to a hospital.
Other states are also weighing their options. Obviously, on a state level, this is working well. How successful it could be when transitioned to a federal level remains to be seen, though lawmakers are optimistic.
So what does this mean for elder care and Medicaid recipients? It would put into place provisions that allow Medicare to better cover home health payments with fewer delays. It also makes it easier for Medicare adjustments for home health payments so that the costs are better covered. Further, home based video services can be introduced for home dialysis and homebound Medicare and/or Medicaid beneficiaries. It would also allow Medicare accountable care organizations to use telehealth like Medicare managed care plans. Hospice care could be covered as well. These are just a few of the benefits, but as these laws begin to fall better into place, this promises to be a step in the right direction for all things related to our elderly loved ones.