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Letters to HHS secretary push for approval of telemedicine services

Two letters addressed to Sylvia Burwell sent more than congratulations to the recently-confirmed HHS secretary.

Both messages urge Burwell and HHS to remove restrictions that limit the coverage for telemedicine services. One of the letters, signed by HIMSS and the American Telemedicine Association, requests that HHS overturn part of section 1834 (m) of the Social Security Act which allows “No coverage for services originating from a beneficiary’s home.”

The Alliance for Connected Care, which includes members Verizon, CVS Caremark and Walgreens, sent a similar letter to Burwell imploring her to reassess the coverage and reimbursement of telehealth services in hopes of lowering Medicare costs. Specifically, they’re requesting that “current barriers to the provision of telehealth services be removed for new care delivery models, such as ACOs.”

A lack of available reimbursements for telemedicine services rendered by providers is one of the big stumbling blocks preventing wider adoption. Nearly half (48%) of providers responding to a survey published in Telemedicine and eHealth indicated that they haven’t provided telemedicine services to patients because they won’t be reimbursed for doing so. Slightly fewer (46%) admitted they performed telemedicine services for Medicare beneficiaries, despite not getting reimbursed. The survey, which sought to uncover more about private payers’ telemedicine reimbursement practices, noted that 20 states currently mandate reimbursements for services carried out remotely.

In the face of unclear reimbursement policies, IHS Inc. forecasts continued growth for the telemedicine industry. An IHS report showed that telemedicine produced a worldwide revenue of $440.6 million in 2013, a number they project to rise to $4.5 billion in 2018. The report also predicts that the number of patients using telemedicine services will grow from fewer than 350,000 in 2013 to more than seven million by 2018. IHS’ predictions are supported by the rise of wearable technology and how well remote monitoring technology lends itself to managing large patient populations with chronic conditions.

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