Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) have introduced a new bill to expand access to healthcare — especially in rural and underserved areas that would allow Medicare to cover additional telehealth services. The bill, known as the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act, would allow Medicare to expand its coverage of telehealth services, changing what the Senators call a "poor industry standard" that discourages innovation and restricts access to specialized services.

"People living in rural Colorado should have access to the same healthcare services as those living in urban areas," Gardner said in a statement. "Telemedicine has the power to increase access to specialized services in underserved communities, and potentially lower costs and improve patient outcomes. The Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act would pave the way for Medicare to expand coverage to additional telehealth services, and potentially provide those living with life-threatening conditions in rural America with more opportunities and more options to receive the care they needed."

The proposed legislation requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to allow eligible hospitals to test telehealth services through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). Additionally, the bill directs CMMI to review and independently evaluate telehealth models for cost, effectiveness and improvement in quality of care without increasing the cost of delivery. If the telehealth model meets this criteria, then the model will be covered through the greater Medicare program.

"Telehealth has revolutionized healthcare, helping more patients receive life-saving treatment, and we must ensure that people living in rural areas have equal access to the care they need," Peters said. "I’m proud to join Senator Gardner in introducing this bipartisan, commonsense legislation that takes important steps to modernize Medicare, expand access to quality care for all seniors and improve patient outcomes."

According to Health Data Management, the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act is an attempt to remedy the fact that Medicare currently only covers limited telehealth services. If the telehealth model meets this criteria, then it would be covered by Medicare. According to Politico's Morning eHealth, telehealth services could be greatly expanded across the healthcare system if proven to save money under CMMI's demonstration projects program.

If the bill is approved, Peters said a pilot program would be implemented before launching nationwide reforms.

The bill already has received support from some industry trade groups, according to Politico. Meanwhile, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) is expected to introduce a separate bill later this month that would allow providers to use telehealth tools in alternative payment programs overseen by CMS, mHealth Intelligence reports. The bill would facilitate telestroke programs covered by Medicaid Advantage.