WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to expand healthcare access in both rural and underserved communities by providing additional pathways for Medicare to cover increased telehealth services. The Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act would help bolster Medicare’s limited telehealth service coverage, which has set a poor industry standard, discouraged innovation and restricted access to specialized services. Peters and Gardner introduced similar legislation in 2017.
“We must ensure that people living in rural areas have equal access to quality health care,” said Senator Peters. “I’m proud to reintroduce bipartisan, commonsense legislation to expand telehealth services to Michigan seniors and families in rural and underserved communities. This effort has the potential to improve health outcomes and lower health care costs by reducing the number of expensive 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.”
“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,” said Donald Simila, President and CEO of Upper Great Lakes Family Health Center. “Telehealth technology enables us to provide primary care, 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.”
"Telehealth, the ability for health care professionals to meaningfully interact with patients without being physically present in the same space, will be very important in addressing the current provider shortage that is already stressing our health care system,” said Dr. Jose Valle, M.D., Critical Care Specialist Geriatic Specialist, Medical Director of Oaklawn Medical Group Primary Care Offices. “We have a serious access problem and telehealth will provide a way of reaching a large number of patients quickly and efficiently. Telehealth will improve overall community health care by enhancing and emphasizing communication between provider and patient thereby minimizing unnecessary diagnostic testing.”
"Telehealth would expand services to rural communities like those served by Oaklawn which have a physician or provider shortage,” said Dr. Syed Quadri, M.D., Psychatric/Mental Health Services, Oaklawn Medical Group. “This need is high especially the case in mental health. If we are to improve mental health care across the state and the nation, then we need to have access to these clients in their respective communities. Many hospital and institutions across the country are already participating in tele psych services with success. This legislation would allow rural hospitals like Oaklawn to expand what the health services that we can offer and would be an asset to our state and community as well.”
“Telehealth is already an aspect of the care of our patients,” said David A. Swender, Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Medical Director of Specialty Clinics, Oaklawn Medical Group. “Physicians communicate with patients via patient portals, schedule appointments, order tests—all via computer and remote methods. It is important, going forward, that there is financial support and incentive for continued use and improvement of these tools that exist so that they can be improved upon and continue to be incorporated into the practice of medicine. Telehealth improves access to the health care providers and services that exist in a community. Supporting this mode of access will improve our ability as healthcare providers to serve the needs of our patients.”
“Telehealth provides a way for caregivers to stay connected to people with chronic illness, so they can prevent declining conditions by intervening more quickly,” said Mary Naber, President and CEO, PACE Southeast Michigan. “This improves the quality of care by reducing avoidable hospitalizations and emergency room visits for our most vulnerable populations.”
“Telehealth is an incredibly important way for many rural patients to have access to primary care and specialty providers that they would not otherwise have access to,” said Jim Raschke, CEO of MidMichigan Community Health Services. “These services provide quality care without the requirement of long distance travel for specialties that are not available in all areas, saving patients time and allowing them to be more productive by not taking as much time off work. Without telehealth, such long distance care would be impossible. It is a service that can expand access to quality care for the patients of Roscommon and potentially connect them with specialists in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit, and further.”
“Telehealth is a necessary element in breaking down access to care barriers in both rural and urban settings,” said Kirk Ray, President and CEO of McLaren Greater Lansing. “Patients and providers alike can benefit with highly trained specialists who are readily available. Opening the boundaries of telehealth is critical to efficiently managing scarce health care resources and developing a full scale health care continuum. We thank Senator Peters and the bipartisan team working to fully advance a Telehealth plan.”
“The Center for Family Health uses limited telehealth due to reimbursement issues,” said Molly Kaser, CEO, Center for Family Health. “We fully support the Gardner-Peters telehealth bill that will allow us to expand our ability to serve our patients. Telehealth has been embraced by our patients – we hope that Congress and CMS will help us move ahead with this important strategy to improve health care for all.”
“Telehealth services can make care more accessible when and where needed,” said Dr. Karen Kent VanGorder, M.D., Senior Vice President & Chief Medical & Quality Officer, Sparrow Health System. “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.”
“Spectrum Health has successfully used telehealth to increase access to care, bring care closer to home for patients, and ultimately lower the cost of care,” said Tina Freese Decker, President & CEO, Spectrum Health. “With the experience of over 80,000 virtual encounters, we know the positive impact of telehealth first hand. Expanding eligibility for telehealth services would allow us to provide personalized and convenient care to all of our patients regardless of their type of insurance or where they are located. We fully support Senator Peters’ continued push to advance health care.”
“Health centers have long looked to telehealth as a solution to the challenge of providing quality behavioral health services to Michiganders who otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive treatment,” said Jen Anderson, Michigan Primary Care Association spokesperson. “It’s well past time that policy caught up with technology, and we’re grateful for Sen. Peters’ leadership on this issue.”
“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.
“We salute Senator Peters and Senator Gardner for their bi-partisan leadership in sponsoring the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act," said Alpena Community College president Dr. Don MacMaster. "As the primary post-secondary institution of higher education in rural NE Lower Michigan, ACC sees the value of telehealth and distance learning technology and supports legislation that spurs innovation and a best practices model. Unfortunately, six NE Lower Michigan counties served by Alpena Community College are among the most affected nationally by the ongoing opioid crisis, as documented by a 2018 CDC study . Telehealth will be a key outreach tool to confront this crisis. We look forward to working with our federal leaders to help our region recover and prosper using this essential technology."
“Limitations set on current telehealth services denies an equal opportunity for those in rural communities to receive the best in health care. An increase in access for patients and providers through the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act would result in overall benefit and lower long-term care costs,” said John Barnas, Executive Director, Michigan Center for Rural Health (Michigan State University)
“Alcona Citizens for Health is glad to support this legislation that will improve the use of telemedicine in rural areas of Michigan,” said Nancy Spencer, CEO, Alcona Citizens for Health, Inc. “For nearly a decade, we’ve used telemedicine to connect our patients to larger health centers for specialized care, – which saves patients travel time and allows them to be more productive locally.”
“Telehealth is an incredibly important way for many rural patients to have access to primary care and specialty providers that they would not otherwise have access to. We utilize telehealth services in a number of ways, including to connect patients for follow-up appointments and school nurses with providers,” said Jim Raschke, CEO, MidMichigan Community Health Services. “We appreciate Senator Peters’ efforts to expand access to telehealth, which will improve access to quality health care at a low cost for our patients across rural Michigan.”
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.