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Is This the Future for Elder Care?

Remote monitoring, telemedicine and telehealth are a few of the new words that will soon become a part of senior citizens’ healthcare vocabulary. But what does that mean for your loved one? And what does it mean for your own future after retirement? This week, we explore the future for elder care and ways legislation is being introduced that could change the landscape in this country when it comes to senior medical care.

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced a bill in late October designed to provide better Medicaid and Medicare coverage opportunities, especially for those in rural areas. Known as the “Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2013,” this bill was introduced by Reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.). Much of Mississippi is considered rural, so it stands to reason a representative from this state would lead the effort that takes what’s already available and expand it. Harper and the other representatives spent months speaking with elderly Americans, their physicians, Medicaid and Medicare experts and other industry leaders before drafting what’s now being introduced.

In a letter written by the bill’s authors to their congressional contemporaries, they explain, “These efforts began with a conversation about physician shortages and concerns with patients’ access to quality and affordable health care…Until we are able to attract more physicians to rural communities and tighten the access gap, the next best alternative is to use technology to connect health professionals with underserved populations – rural and urban – through telehealth networks.” But what exactly does that mean?

First, let’s take a look at the technology that define these efforts. Mobile medical applications are software programs that are created to function on mobile communication devices, such as smart phones. They serve the same purposes, in many instances, as traditional medical devices. They record important vital statistics on a patient. The biggest difference is these new technological marvels will transmit the information back to a hospital, health agency or doctor’s office. It’s all linked to the appropriate Medicaid or Medicare office or insurance company.

In some areas, bills have already been signed into law. In July, 2013, Washington DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray signed the Telemedicine Reimbursement Act of 2013. This law requires private health insurers, as well as Medicaid, to cover healthcare services, even if they’re provided via the new technology, provided the same services would have been delivered were the patient to visit the doctor’s office or hospital. Other states are beginning to follow suit with Missouri taking a more involved approach. This state doesn’t require any restrictions on the type of technology that’s used. It too has many rural areas. As long as the patient’s information is safely transmitted, it can be done so via any electronic communications available.

Most bills, including this most recent one introduced by Harper and his colleagues, provide:

  • Provisions that would allow Medicare home health payments
  • Provides Medicare adjustments for home health payments to be used to cover remote patient monitoring.
  • Covers home based video services for home dialysis, homebound Medicare beneficiaries and hospice care.
  • Expands telehealth coverage to sole community hospitals regardless of metropolitan status.
  • Covers telehealth services under Medicare for post-acute care.
  • Allows Medicare accountable care organizations to use telehealth like Medicare managed care plans.

Lawmakers are already looking towards advantages that this technology will provide other patient categories, such as those with high risk pregnancies.

The goals are always to lower health costs and the new technology could very well cement many of those efforts.