Lawmakers Tout Bill To Expand Medicare Coverage of Telestroke Care

In an opinion piece for The Hill's "Congress Blog," Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) tout the importance of a bill (HR 2799) that would expand Medicare coverage of telehealth services for stroke evaluations.

The lawmakers write, "Because time is so important to stroke patients, we recently introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that all Medicare beneficiaries who suffer a stroke can have access to quick, high-quality stroke care using telemedicine, now commonly called 'telestroke.'" They explain that their bill, the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine Act (FAST Act), "would change an outdated provision of law that currently allows Medicare to cover a telestroke evaluation only when the patient is located at a rural hospital."

According to Beatty and Griffith, "Telestroke has proven to be very effective in increasing the speed with which patients get treatment by a stroke neurologist and also the number of patients who get [the clot-busting drug] tPA in both rural and urban areas."

Beatty and Griffith note that "94% of stroke patients live in urban or suburban areas and face many of the same barriers to speedy care -- lengthy travel times to a hospital, lack of available stroke specialists and no awareness of stroke warning signs." They also cite research from the American Academy of Neurology, which found "there is currently an 11% shortfall of neurologists, with that shortfall projected to increase substantially over the next decade."

Further, the lawmakers note that the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association estimate that an additional 22,000 Medicare beneficiaries with stroke "would be treated with tPA each year if the FAST Act became law." In addition, they write, "the FAST Act could result in $1.2 billion in net savings to Medicare and Medicaid over 10 years by reducing disability and the need for rehabilitative care."

The lawmakers conclude, "We urge our colleagues not to waste any more time and join us as co-sponsors of the FAST Act," calling the legislation "a win-win for stroke victims, their families, and for Congress: We can improve the lives of countless future stroke survivors and their families and create greater efficiencies in health care spending" (Beatty/Griffith, "Congress Blog," The Hill, 9/21).

Source: iHealthBeat, Tuesday, September 22, 2015
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