The Promise Of Telehealth: States Push For Insurance Coverage As Support For Virtual Healthcare Services Swells

From the International Business Times:

For decades, proponents of telehealth, also known as telemedicine, have pushed for the expanded use of communications technology to deliver healthcare services to underserved areas — both urban and rural — to help patients like Seetook. In its various forms, telehealth has been shown to expand access to care,reduce wait times for appointments, lower the cost of healthcare and improve patients’ health. Analysts at Towers Watson have predicted that U.S. companies could save as much as $6 billion in healthcare costs if all employees used telehealth coverage to the greatest possible extent. However, supporters have struggled to persuade insurers and government healthcare programs — especially Medicare, the nation’s healthcare insurance for people who are at least 65 years old — to cover these services at rates comparable to those physicians receive for treating patients through traditional visits.

“The goal of telemedicine is to get healthcare out to where the person is,” says Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, a group that estimates roughly 12 million Americans used some form of telehealth in 2013. Linkous suspects the number has doubled since then.

Medicare only covers telehealth for a limited number of patients in designated rural areas, and those patients must still travel to a clinic to complete a session rather than log in directly from home. As a result, only 1 percent of Medicare beneficiaries use telehealth each year.

And since Medicare coverage is used as a benchmark for grant funding and private insurers to set their own rates, investment has been limited since telehealth debuted in the 1990s.

“How do you expect a provider to provide these services through telehealth if they don’t get paid for it?” Mei Wa Kwong, senior policy associate at the Center for Connected Health Policy, says. “It kind of holds it back.”

Serious service errors plague Iowa’s Medicaid companies

From the Des Moines Register (hat tip: Beth):

The corporations poised to take over management of Iowa’s Medicaid program have each been held accountable in other states for serious service and administrative errors, including some that wrongly delayed or denied medical services to poor residents, a Des Moines Register investigation shows.

Yet a review committee that scored the corporations’ bids gave the highest scores — and a piece of the annual $4.2 billion in contracts — to some of the companies with the most egregious problems.

In total, more than 1,500 individual regulatory sanctions resulting in more than $10.2 million in fines have been imposed against the four companies in the past five years, according to information contained in public bid documents.

Multiple states repeatedly cited the same problems. That should be a dire warning to Iowa that the companies are either unable or unwilling to resolve serious problems, Medicaid advocates said.

Drug Goes From $13.50 a Tablet to $750, Overnight

From the NY Times:

Specialists in infectious disease are protesting a gigantic overnight increase in the price of a 62­ year­ old drug that is the standard of care for treating a life­ threatening parasitic infection.

The drug, called Daraprim, was acquired in August by Turing Pharmaceuticals, a start­up run by a former hedge fund manager. Turing immediately raised the price to $750 a tablet from $13.50, bringing the annual cost of treatment for some patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“What is it that they are doing differently that has led to this dramatic increase?” said Dr. Judith Aberg, the chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She said the price increase could force hospitals to use “alternative therapies that may not have the same efficacy.”