Medicare Slow to Adopt Telemedicine Due to Cost Concerns

Nearly 20 years after such videoconferencing technology has been available for health services, less than 1 percent of Medicare beneficiaries use it. For example, Anthem Health and a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center health plan in western Pennsylvania are the only two Medicare Advantage insurers offering the virtual visits, and the traditional Medicare program has tightly limited telemedicine payments to certain rural areas. And even there, the beneficiary must already be at a clinic, a rule that often defeats the goal of making care more convenient. Congress has maintained such restrictions out of concern that the service might increase Medicare expenses. The Congressional Budget Office and other analysts have said giving seniors access to doctors online will encourage them to use more services, not replace costly visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers. In 2012, the latest year for which data are available, Medicare paid about $5 million for telemedicine services — barely a blip compared with the program’s total spending of $466 billion, according to a study in the journal Telemedicine. “The very advantage of telehealth, its ability to make care convenient, is also potentially its Achilles’ heel,” Ateev Mehrotra, a Rand Corp. analyst, told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee last year. “Telehealth may be ‘too convenient.’ ”

Source/more: Kaiser Health News

David Wingate is an elder law attorney, who practices in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, Maryland. The elder law practice consists of wills, powers of attorney, living wills, trusts, asset protection and Medicaid.

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