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It’s not often that a new bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives has the ATA shouting “Hallelujah!” But that’s the response so far to a recent measure sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.). It may be the most sensible and comprehensive telemedicine legislation ever introduced in the halls of that gridlocked chamber.

The Telehealth Promotion Act of 2012 (H.R. 6719) brilliantly addresses the two chief roadblocks in telemedicine: reimbursement and licensure. Plus it goes much further, calling for some long-needed improvements to existing programs. If enacted, Thompson’s bill would extend the benefits of telemedicine to nearly 75 million Americans by increasing access through Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and other federal programs.

ATA chief executive Jon Linkous has called the bill “a panacea for federal involvement in telemedicine, eliminating archaic barriers and expanding opportunities for remote healthcare.” Here are some key provisions in the bill:

  • Ensuring that no federally covered benefit can be excluded because it’s furnished via telemedicine
  • Allowing telemedicine providers in all federal health plans to be licensed solely in the state where they’re physically located and would be free to treat eligible patients anywhere in the nation
  • Providing new incentives for hospitals that lower readmissions with telemedicine
  • Exempting ACOs from telehealth fee-for-service restrictions
  • Creating a Medicaid telemedicine option to handle high-risk pregnancies

We need to do more than applaud Rep. Thompson’s boldness and vision. Now is the time to urge your U.S. representative to join in this common-sense effort to remove the biggest obstacles to telemedicine. Let your elected leaders know that telemedicine has the power to dramatically decrease federal health spending. That’s music to the ears of legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Thompson’s bill is smart and far-reaching. His colleagues can help restore some of the tattered credibility on Capitol Hill by swiftly passing it this year.

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