Legislative and Governmental affairs Update: Telehealth, Connect for Care, and the Breathe Act

by Tammy Poole, MS, RRT-NPS

[The following activity was reported to Tammy Poole by Anne Marie Hummel who is the Associate Executive Director for Advocacy and Government Affairs ]

The bill we have been waiting for, the CONNECT for Health Act (Creating Opportunities Now for New and Effective Care Technologies), was released on October 30 by members of the House and Senate telehealth working group. This telehealth bill had been introduced last year and received support from a large group of organizations. Stefanie Rinehart from CRD and I attended the press conference led by Senators Schatz (D/HI), Wicker (R/MS), Hyde-Smith (R/MS) and Car-din (D/MD) and Representative Welch (D/VT). Representative Thompson (D/CA), lead sponsor of the BREAHTE Act, was absent to tend to issues resulting from the devastating fires that continue to plague his state of California.
The bill includes a provision (Section 14) that allows health care professionals who are not otherwise eligible under current law, including respiratory therapists, to furnish telehealth services in the health care delivery models CMS is testing as part of its Innovation Center which we believe can expand access to RTs beyond the provisions of the BREATHE Act. Over 120 organizations have endorsed the bill, including AARC. A copy of the bill summary with supporting organizations is attached. We do not have a bill number as the text has not yet been released.

AARC had been lobbying the telehealth working group members to include the text of the BREATHE Act into CONNECT, but the group opted not to include disease specific provisions in the bill. Rather, the bill authorizes CMS to test new telehealth models (Section 15), and we see this as an opportunity to create a model like that outlined in the BREAHTE Act that addresses disease management services for Medicare beneficiaries with COPD. In fact, many of the provisions of our bill are supported by a recent report to Congress from CMS on Medicare telehealth in which a re-view of telehealth for COPD noted “increased access to effective, known care management tools may yield positive results”.

It highlighted increased access for patients with chronic disease by:

1) providing patient education and primary prevention and early detection;

2) improving treatment adherence;

3) facilitating the remote collection of patient data;

4) providing early detection of complications and timely symptom management;

5) reducing unnecessary emergency room and physician visits; and

6) preventing hospital readmission.”

So, what does that mean for the BREATHE Act?

AARC will be meeting with the House sponsors of the BREATHE Act to discuss next steps in light of CONNECT’s introduction. For legislation to become law, both chambers of Congress must pass identical legislation. To date, we have learned the Senate prefers including respiratory therapists in CONNECT rather than introducing a companion bill to the BREATHE Act, so the feedback from our House sponsors will inform the strategy we employ as we continue to advocate to ensure RTs can deliver services to Medicare beneficiaries as telehealth practitioners.

We will be developing a list of frequently asked questions to provide members with more information about the CONNECT for Health Act and the CMS Innovation Center’s work. That will be available later this month after we return from New Orleans. We will also be developing a new advocacy platform designed to expand our reach on issues of importance to the profession.