Largely overlooked in the 900+ page 21st Century Cures Act (the “Cures Act”) signed into law on December 13, 2016, was a directive from Congress for further study into the use of

technology for the delivery of health care services. A second bill signed into law the following day – the ECHO Act – detailed additional research to be conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) into the use of technology to connect urban and rural health care providers. These studies, coupled with efforts by other federal government agencies, suggest that there may be more significant governmental support for the adoption and reimbursement of telehealth practices in the near future.
Separately, the ECHO Act was also signed into law on December 14th. This legislation seeks to build on “Project ECHO” initiated by the University of New Mexico in 2003.4 This Project created a “hub and spoke” platform for urban health care specialists to connect with rural health care providers to enable the delivery of health care in rural areas. No direct doctor-to-patient care is provided through Project ECHO. Instead, the urban and rural health care providers participate in teleconferences and “grand rounds” so that they may collaborate and share medical knowledge.
The reports Congress has directed under the Cures Act and the ECHO Act should provide a comprehensive picture of the current state of play with respect to telehealth programs and reimbursement for telehealth. While the Cures Act focuses on the options to better integrate telehealth solutions into federally-funded programs such as Medicare and Medicaid programs, the ECHO Act focuses on the ability to connect health care providers in urban areas with those in rural areas and to improve delivery of care through sharing of knowledge.
FCC Funding for Telehealth
At the same time that HHS is studying and reporting to Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to distribute funds to encourage the development of broadband service for telemedicine purposes in rural areas. In particular, the FCC recently overhauled the Rural Health Care Program to encourage further development of telehealth programs in rural areas.
[Read More…]
Source: Drinker Biddle & Reath LLPFatema F. Zanzi and Lee G. Petro