A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate last week would let Medicare experiment with covering more telehealth services.
Under the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act, sponsored by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Col.) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), selected hospitals would be allowed to test offering telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries in cooperation with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.
The CMMI would independently evaluate the tested telehealth for cost, effectiveness, and quality of care. If one of the evaluated models succeeds in testing, it then would be covered throughout Medicare.
The goal of the bill is to expand access to healthcare for rural patients, who tend to be farther away from hospitals than their urban counterparts. But there are concerns about how expanding telehealth would affect total Medicare costs.
A similar bill died when it was introduced in the House in 2015.
The two Senate sponsors said in a news release that the bill would reduce healthcare costs.
But a recent study in Health Affairs found that while each telehealth visit may be cheaper than an equivalent in-person visit, telehealth may increase utilization, which leads to greater overall costs.
Sens. Gardner and Peters were not immediately available for comment.