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Telehealth: Lowering Costs, Improving Patient Outcomes

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By Senator John Thune

Washington has long been embroiled in a debate over how to best to preserve and strengthen the Medicare program. Frequently we hear politicians discussing the need to cut costs while still ensuring that beneficiaries have access to the quality health care they need. Yet far too often we are left with more questions than answers about how to find these cost savings.

That is why I have introduced legislation to explore solutions to lower the cost of one of the drivers of Medicare spending, reducing hospital readmissions. Recently, I was joined by Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota in re-introducing my Fostering Independence Through Technology (FITT) Act. Our bill would create a pilot program to provide budget neutral incentives for home health agencies across the country to use remote patient monitoring (RPM) and communications technologies to give seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries greater access to the care they need while lowering Medicare costs and enabling them to stay in their homes.

The FITT Act would support the use of remote monitoring systems that utilize non-invasive sensors that are installed in a consenting patient's home where they detect movement, monitor sleep quality, and collect other information about day-to-day activities. The information is transmitted to a registered nurse, who compares the data with a client's usual patterns of daily living to detect changes that point to the need for medical attention.

Under the FITT Act, home health agencies participating in the pilot program would receive annual incentive payments based on a percentage of the Medicare savings achieved as a result of telehealth services. The incentive payments in the aggregate, however, may not exceed the amount that Medicare would have spent if the pilot projects had not been implemented. This would ensure that my legislation would not add to our nation's ever-increasing national debt.

Telehealth technology, including RPM, has the potential to reduce the number of hospital visits, number of visits from home health aides, and allow individuals to stay in their homes longer while still receiving quality care. As we continue exploring various ways to save and protect Medicare from bankruptcy, reducing hospital readmissions is an important component of that debate, and I believe that innovative technologies such as telehealth represent untapped potential in our search to find creative ways to lower Medicare costs.


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