Last December, the US Congress enacted the first overhaul of Medicare’s Access to Care program since 1999. Among the changes to ensure that older Americans get the care they need: Medicare will now cover telehealth services with telemedicine networks like Telehealth Partners, bringing about the biggest change in the program since 1992. This is a major step toward making telehealth more widely available to older Americans in the US.
The Affordable Care Act gave a slight bump to the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, and received enhanced protections for the marketplace. The Senate passed the original package (S. 1757), co-sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders and Susan Collins, along with Representative Earl Blumenauer, on July 19. However, the House Health Subcommittee postponed its vote of the entire package by just one week and is likely to take up the ACA package on August 29.
The ACA package includes important reforms to allow pre-existing conditions to be covered, limit discrimination against chronically ill patients, create a single nationwide plan for Medicare recipients, and eliminate the per-minute copayments for most Medicare beneficiaries.
Because of its importance to the more than 40 million older Americans who benefit from Medicare, and because it could help millions of Americans for whom healthcare costs are too high, I commend both the House and Senate for passing the ACA package, in particular, the substantive reform to address the dual-eligibility issue. It was recently estimated that a national expansion of telehealth could help tens of millions of Americans throughout the US.
Published reports from various studies, including a 2018 study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in collaboration with Truven Health Analytics and Epocrates, showed that low access to health care, medical errors, barriers to continuity of care, and declines in the quality of care provided all drove up costs for the benefit of younger Americans. Taking care of the needs of patients beyond traditional primary care services costs far less than the estimated savings.
As Americans age, and more of them become frail or end up being victims of preventable health care-related death, increasing access to telehealth services will offer a pathway to improved care for older Americans, saving them time and money.
Until more effective medicines for the treatment of anxiety, depression, and dementia reach the market, expanding use of telehealth will continue to help many American patients to get the care they need with reduced cost. Telehealth covers a wide array of issues ranging from chronic conditions to mental health and social care, just as it does with physical ailments.