The Preventive Health Savings Act (S. 2164 and H B. 2953), introduced last year, includes an important component related to telehealth. If passed, the Preventive Health Savings Act could lead to increased Medicare coverage for preventive health services delivered via telehealth.
The path to this coverage is not a direct one, but the proposed legislation expands the time allowed for the Congressional Budget Office to focus on the cost savings of disease prevention programs. In fact, this legislation allows for an analysis of potential cost savings of preventive care over a much longer time frame (e.g., 30 years). This is important, as the savings in healthcare costs that are often related to receipt of preventive care may not be realized for many years. Studies that look at short term cost savings are unable to capture the full benefit that preventive care provides.
Telehealth is a way to potentially reduce the cost of delivering preventive care services. For instance, providers are able to connect with patients who might have otherwise needed more expensive in-home care or patients who would have needed transportation reimbursement to get to the doctor's office. Telehealth could allow healthcare professionals to more easily provide key preventive services for larger populations - especially those that may be harder to reach, such as areas where there are a limited number of healthcare providers. The ability to provide preventive care to a wider group of patients can help prevent illnesses from occurring and possibly minimize the detrimental effects of existing conditions over time. Medicare may be able to use telehealth as a viable solution in decreasing their costs in providing preventive care, as well as decreasing costs associated with healthcare later in life. By allowing studies that can look at cost savings over decades - and not just a couple of years - we will be able to see the true benefit that telehealth can bring to preventive care, in both cost savings and overall improvement in population health.
Helen Nichols, MSW
University of Maryland School of Social Work