Bill targets rural telemedicine access, offers $30M in grants

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Congressmen Mike Thompson, D-Calif., Bart Stupak, D-Mich., Lee Terry, R-Neb., and Sam Johnson, R-Texas, have introduced bipartisan legislation that would expand Medicare reimbursement to more facilities in urban and suburban areas for the use of telehealth equipment and services.

The legislation also provides $30 million in grant funding to help healthcare facilities pay for the telehealth equipment and to expand telehealth support services. Currently about 80 percent of Americans do not have access to telemedicine facilities because of restrictions that limit funding for these types of facilities to rural areas.

"Allowing doctors to remotely monitor a patient who has congestive heart failure not only helps the patient stay healthy, it also reduces costly visits to the emergency room," Thompson said. "The Obama Administration has indicated that telemedicine will be an important part of their healthcare reform agenda, and I look forward to working with them to expand access to this IT."

"Telemedicine is a critical piece to the future of healthcare," Terry said. "By using telemedicine we can increase the efficiency of healthcare while keeping costs down, especially to our rural areas of the country."

"Telemedicine has proven its ability to increase the quality of health care while reducing costs," Stupak said. The Act "will bring telemedicine into new settings and expand the pool of Medicare providers eligible to participate in the telehealth program. The demand for telemedicine is only going to increase and it is appropriate that our federal health programs lead the way in effectively and efficiently utilizing these technologies."

"Where you live shouldn't determine the quality of healthcare you receive. Technology has advanced to allow doctors to take care of patients in any location. It's time to modernize Medicare to make it even more accessible," Johnson said.

In July 2008, Thompson and Stupak's provisions to expand the types of facilities authorized to provide telehealth care were passed into law as part of the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act. The bill will further expand the type of facilities that are eligible.