A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced a bill designed to expand telemedicine services through Medicare benefits.
The bill, called the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies—or CONNECT—for Health Act of 2019, would loosen some of Medicare's restrictions on geographic and originating sites for patients seeking telemedicine services for mental health and emergency medical care.
The proposal would require a study to explore how to expand telemedicine services to reach patients in their own homes, as well as allow the HHS secretary to waive telemedicine restrictions during national and public health emergencies.
"Telehealth is the future of healthcare," co-sponsor Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in a statement. "The technology is advancing, more providers and patients are relying on it, and we have broad bipartisan support."
Co-sponsors on the proposal include Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.).
The Senate telehealth working group first introduced the bill in 2016. A number of the legislation's provisions have since been signed into law or adopted by the CMS, including as components of the CHRONIC Care Act, a piece of legislation that passed in a congressional budget deal last year.
Improved access to telemedicine, according to the bill's co-sponsors, will help to cut costs for patients and providers and make it easier for patients in underserved or remote areas to connect with physicians.
"I've seen firsthand how hard it can be for Virginians to access healthcare in rural or underserved communities," Warner said in a statement. "This legislation will allow more individuals across Virginia and our country to take advantage of telehealth services that require less travel time and provide affordable, quality care."
Telemedicine has been gaining traction in recent years, with the global telemedicine market expected to swell to $130.5 billion by 2025 as more clinicians embrace the technology, according to a report that Doximity released earlier this year.
Several industry groups have already voiced support for the legislation, including the American College of Emergency Physicians, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and America's Health Insurance Plans.
"This legislation would benefit patients by removing antiquated restrictions in the Medicare program that prevent physicians from using widely available medical technology that has become commonplace in the past decade," Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the AMA, said in a statement.
Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) on Wednesday introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.