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Column: Health Technology Reforms

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Pickering legislation would allow coverage of remote monitoring to increase potential for home health, quicken medical response for developing conditions, reduce visits to medical centers by those who have trouble with travel and transportation

Those old words of advice "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" provide good advice to reform Medicare to ensure recipients receive the best and immediate health care in a convenient and dignified manner, while keeping costs low enough to sustain the program. New technology can provide better medical treatment at lower costs, but we must employ it and Medicare must accept it. I recently introduced the Remote Monitoring Access act of 2006 to reform Medicare to meet these objectives.

Many of us when healthy visit our physicians only when we think we face a serious situation, ignoring check-ups that could benefit our health in the long run. We think such visits are inconvenient. I can only imagine how such inconvenience is exacerbated for the millions of people in the U.S. with chronic conditions such as diabetes, congestive heart failure and arrhythmia who need to see their physicians on a regular basis. The situation grows worse for seniors who have difficulties moving around or lack the means or resources to make frequent trips to the doctor.

Government statistics show that maintaining mobility is a serious challenge for many seniors and for some, even to leave their home is a strenuous activity. Those seniors with chronic conditions who live in rural areas without close access to a health care provider or facility have it worst of all. People who live in rural areas can face serious health care consequences because of the lack of easily accessible services.

Remote health technology and practices allow health care providers ten or hundred miles away from a patient to collect, analyze and receive - by automatic phone, computer or wireless - vital patient information. Remote monitoring technologies allow patients to be in constant contact with their doctors without leaving the comfort of their homes. Physicians can manage diagnosis and treatments in real time from their office or hospital. This technology can not only improve the quality of care given to patients, it also reduces the need for frequent visits to the doctor's office, costly emergency room visits, and unnecessary hospitalizations.

Because Medicare does not currently reimburse health care providers for using these technologies, patients - including disabled seniors - must leave their homes and travel miles from their communities, sometimes only to find out the trip was unnecessary. These needless visits increase healthcare expenses.

My legislation would allow Medicare to pay for these services and technologies just like it does for face to face visits. It would not require patients or physicians to use these new breakthroughs; but for many patients, this technology would be beneficial to both their health and quality of life.

For some conditions, the remote monitoring will notify doctors of a change in the body's health before the patient even realizes something is happening. With strokes and heart attacks, these critical seconds can save lives, improve recovery, and reduce medical costs.

This bipartisan legislation would add reimbursement for remote patient management services provided by physicians to Part B of Medicare for diabetes, cardiac arrhythmia, heart failure, sleep apnea and other diseases as the Secretary of Health and Human Services determines appropriate. The bill does not require remote monitoring, but simply increases the opportunity for the technology for those patients who upon the advice of their health care providers, choose to employ it.

The National Rural Health Association supports this reform which states like Mississippi will find particularly beneficial. We're blessed in Mississippi to have some of the top medical research and treatment facilities in the South and across the country. But sometimes patients cannot travel from rural areas to these facilities. These technologies bring the expertise of these facilities to the patient and this legislation would allow Medicare to pay for these practices - ultimately reducing health care costs while improving the care of the patients.

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