Video doctor visits have the potential to help many different kinds of patients, but elderly patients, who are sometimes homebound or have trouble driving, would seem like a natural fit — including the more than 50 million Americans on Medicare. However, according to a new report from Kaiser Health News, fewer than 1 percent of Medicare beneficiaries use video visit technology, owing mostly to a law that continues to rule it out for most, despite the cost savings potential.
According to the report, the only Medicare plans that can offer telehealth to a broad swath of their population are Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare ACOs (the latter were only given that freedom last March by HHS). The rest of Medicare is restricted by law to only offering telehealth services to patients in rural areas, and then only if the patients come in to a clinic. Only two Medicare Advantage insurers elect to offer video visits: Anthem and a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center health plan in western Pennsylvania.
While some state medical boards, made up of practicing physicians, have an economic objection to telemedicine, it’s harder to see what the federal government has to gain from restricting its use. According to the KHN report, the justification from the Congressional Budget Office is somewhat bizarre: that while telemedicine might reduce costs on a per-visit basis, they could encourage Medicare beneficiaries to seek more episodes of care, raising costs overall. Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, a Rand Corporation analyst, explained it in a testimony last year before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. Keep reading>>