Proposal to expand services in Medicare looks to Mississippi successes

Published 7:00 am Thursday, February 11, 2016

Telehealth success in Mississippi has helped inspire new legislation that could lead to better health care for patients across the country. On February 3, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and I introduced the “CONNECT for Health Act” to put these successes into wider practice.
A Win-Win for Patients and
Specifically, our bill would lift restrictions on telehealth in Medicare, allowing patients to benefit from services such as video conferencing, remote patient monitoring, and the use of technology for transferring medical data. Those with chronic diseases, for example, could have access to life-saving tools as part of the monitoring and management of their care.
Those in underserved areas could be connected immediately to specialized medical professionals. Studies have shown that telehealth services are effective in helping patients stay healthy and avoid hospital visits.
Under the new bill, our state’s numerous community health centers and rural health clinics – which provide essential services to hundreds of thousands of Mississippians – would have expanded telehealth tools at their disposal when treating Medicare patients. For those seniors having Medicare Advantage coverage, telehealth and remote patient monitoring could be basic benefits.
Taxpayers could benefit from efforts to expand telehealth services as well. According to an analysis by the health-care consulting firm Avalere, the bill’s major provisions could save $1.8 billion over 10 years.
UMMC at the Forefront of
Telehealth Care
We know that these strategies and advancements in telehealth work. For more than a decade, the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) has used telecommunication technologies to connect rural emergency departments with medical professionals in Jackson.
Currently, more than 200 sites in nearly all of Mississippi’s counties have access to experts in 35 specialties, offering patients quality care no matter their location across the state.
One of the biggest local successes has been UMMC’s use of remote patient monitoring among diabetic patients in the Delta.
This groundbreaking telehealth pilot program involved giving an electronic medical tablet to 200 patients with uncontrolled diabetes, allowing them to have contact with their medical provider every day. In the two years since the program started, the results have been extraordinary, virtually eliminating frequent hospitalizations.
According to the Mississippi Division of Medicaid, the state could reap cost savings of an estimated $189 million each year if 20 percent of Mississippians with diabetes joined the program. Not surprisingly, UMMC and Mississippi Medicaid are already planning to expand the program to other parts of the state.
Bill Earns Widespread
I am encouraged that our telehealth legislation already has bipartisan support, as well as the backing of the medical community and a number of health-care organizations. Mississippi’s congressional delegation has worked diligently to see this legislation take shape and move forward. Sen. Thad Cochran is one of the Senate bill’s original cosponsors, and Rep. Gregg Harper is introducing the companion bill in the House of Representatives. Harnessing technology can help pave the way for a more efficient and effective health-care system of the 21st century.
Telehealth promises to have a positive impact across America, making a notable difference in patients’ lives and working toward proven health-care reform.

By Senator Roger Wicker

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