Legislation proposes Medicare coverage for medical monitoring services

Sunday, June 1, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C.--A bill introduced to the House of Representatives aims to expand the use of remote medical monitoring equipment and the services related to it, said Jonathan Linkous, chief executive officer of American Telemedicine Association (ATA), based here. The Medicare Remote Monitoring Access Act of 2008, HR 5765, was introduced in April by Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and would amend the Social Security Act to cover remote patient management services for certain chronic health conditions under the Medicare program. The legislation would require Medicare to cover remote monitoring services used to care for patients with congestive heart failure and cardiac arrhythmia and also establishes a demonstration program to evaluate coverage for diabetes, epilepsy and sleep apnea.

This legislation primarily addresses equipment prescribed by physicians and not products purchased by consumers, said Linkous, but for companies who monitor Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS), the move to vital signs monitoring “is definitely within their ballpark.”

“As response systems become more sophisticated and companies add extra features to their pendants and to the product itself, they start getting into more of the health and vital signs monitoring,” he said.

Daniel Oppenheim, vice president of LifeStation, a PERS monitoring company, is not familiar with this particular legislation, but said he believes there’s potential for growth of the medical monitoring industry. “I think whether or not the government supports this, we will be seeing HMOs and hospitals moving toward remote medical monitoring because it makes sense,” he said. “People see promise on the healthcare side, promise for reducing hospital visits and tremendous opportunity to improve people’s health by preventative tracking of their health status … That being said, whatever potential this industry has, it exists in a very experimental, nascent stage at this time,” he said. “Even compared to the PERS industry, it’s a very small area that people are experimenting with and we don’t know exactly what form it will ultimately take.”

Oppenheim said there is significant transition for companies interested in moving from PERS monitoring to vital signs monitoring. “Because you begin to interact and deal with a patient’s specific vital signs and health, you venture into an area of liability and requirement of making a determination of status of their vital signs. This is a new frontier and it requires much more than just technological upgrades,” he said.

The prospects for passage of this bill remain “unclear,” said Linkous. “A different version of this bill was introduced in the last two congresses … I think supporters of the bill are hoping that the content of this bill are picked up inside a larger bill dealing with health care that will move through Congress.”

The bill is currently being reviewed by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health.