Peters, Gardner Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Expand Telehealth Services

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) today introduced the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act, legislation that would expand access to health care in both rural and urban areas by paving the way for Medicare to cover additional telehealth services. Currently, Medicare covers limited telehealth services, setting a poor industry standard, discouraging innovation, and restricting access to specialized services.

“Michigan seniors and families in rural and underserved communities are using telehealth technology to receive specialized and quality health care that otherwise would not be readily available,” said Senator Peters. “This bipartisan, commonsense legislation has the potential to help expand access to care for Michigan seniors, lower health care costs and reduce costly emergency room visits, hospitalizations and readmissions.”

“All Coloradans deserve access to health care services regardless of whether they live in rural or urban areas,” said Senator Gardner. “The Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act would allow Medicare to expand coverage of telehealth services and increase access for people living in rural America. It would also incentivize the healthcare industry to develop new technologies that could potentially reduce costs and improve patient health. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues to advance this commonsense legislation that will help rural Coloradans access better care.”

The Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to allow eligible hospitals to test telehealth services through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMI). Additionally, it directs CMI to have an independent evaluation conducted to assess the telehealth models for cost, effectiveness, and improvement in quality of care without increasing the cost of delivery. If the telehealth model meets this criteria, then the model will be covered through the greater Medicare program.

The Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act is supported by a broad group of Michigan health care providers including Michigan Health & Hospital Association (MHA), Munson Healthcare, Sparrow Health System, Ascension Michigan, Upper Great Lakes Family Health Center, Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) Southeast Michigan, AdvaMed, Alcona Health Center, Catholic Social Services of the Upper Peninsula, Spectrum Health Medical Group, Strkyer, and Medtronic.

“Senator Gary Peters has taken the initiative to modernize Medicare policy for telehealth services. Health care delivery must become more patient-centered, more timely and more efficient. We need to take advantage of existing technology, and be ready for the next innovations, to improve service delivery and health outcomes for Michigan seniors,” said Brian Peters, Chief Executive Officer, Michigan Health & Hospital Association (MHA).

“Telehealth services are a vital part of the rural healthcare delivery system. Munson Healthcare, a northern Michigan health system, strongly supports expanding access to these technologies making it easier for patients to connect with qualified medical providers and in some cases protecting patient health through reducing exposure to other patients for those with compromised immune systems,” said Ed Ness, President and CEO, Munson Healthcare.

“Telehealth services can make care more accessible when and where needed. When Medicare covers these services, healthcare companies would feel confident in making the front end investment in the technology required that can ultimately decrease cost and increase access to quality care for patients,” said Dr. Karen Kent VanGorder, M.D., Senior Vice President & Chief Medical & Quality Officer, Sparrow Health System.

“Ascension Michigan applauds Senator Peter’s efforts to expand access to telehealth services through this legislation.  We believe this legislation if passed will increase opportunities to deliver quality healthcare services in the most appropriate setting and at an earlier stage of a patient’s treatment protocol, thus reducing costly complications in the future,” said Gwen MacKenzie, Senior Vice President, Ascension Health/Michigan Ministry Market Executive.

“Upper Great Lakes Family Health Center serves more than 25,000 individuals in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, many of whom are forced to drive long distances to see a doctor in person. Telehealth technology enables us to provide specialized care and behavioral health services to Michiganders in rural communities who would otherwise not be able to receive treatment. We support the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act introduced by Senator Peters because it will expand health care access for seniors and other patients living in rural areas, who already face significant challenges in getting the care they need,” said Donald Simila, President and CEO of Upper Great Lakes Family Health Center.

“Telehealth monitoring increases health care access for both those living in remote areas and those in urban areas who can’t get out easily to visit their doctor. It helps to identify problems early by collecting information on vital signs, blood sugars, blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels. It gives the physician better information than relying on client’s memories to self-report these blood pressure or blood sugar readings or weights. It saves time and money by decreasing unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office – will also save on non-emergency medical transportation costs. It promotes self-management of care as patients learn to answer diagnosis-specific questions and look at outcomes for themselves,” said Jackie O’Connor, Executive Director, Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan.

"Telehealth provides a way for caregivers to stay connected to people with chronic illness, so they can prevent declining conditions by intervening more quickly.  This improves the quality of care by reducing avoidable hospitalizations and emergency room visits for our most vulnerable populations," said Mary Naber, President and CEO, Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) Southeast Michigan.