Different pieces of legislation supporting expansion of technology-enabled access to care were the focus on Capitol Hill this week, with bipartisan bills that provide funding for connected social care networks and call for telehealth regulatory reform gained support on separate tracks.

Aligning clinical care and social service

The new bipartisan Leveraging Integrated Networks in Communities (LINC) to Address Social Needs Act was introduced by Senators Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut.

The LINC to Address Social Needs Act would offer one-time seed funding for states to help establish communication between social service providers and healthcare organizations for referral, capacity management, and outcome tracking between social service providers and healthcare organizations.

The goal is to build more robust technology networks for statewide and regional collaboration – helping coordinate care and social services and connect people to food, housing, child development, job training, transportation and more.

The funding for this coordination of these social determinants of health aims to break down siloed efforts and better align care and social service providers – ideally enabling better health outcomes, reducing costs and protecting vulnerable populations.

Moreover, the bill would allow for data sharing that can help providers and community groups alike measure the impact these social interventions are having, and prioritize resource allocation.

There’s been a big push to do a better incorporating social determinant information into care and treatment plans over the past few years, as more and more provider organizations see the key role that non-clinical factors play in patients’ health. More and more policy makers are recognizing the same imperative.

The challenge, however, is linking care providers with the community organizations that can help address SDOH needs – to say nothing of easy tracking of SDOH data within and across clinical workflows to ensure it’s being put to work.

As we’ve shown this month, there’s been progress on unlocking data from EHRs, but still much work to be to be done with information sharing on a community level, even as a wide variety of interoperability groups throw their weight behind an array of different efforts.

“While it is critical to recognize and understand the impact of social determinants of health, it’s even more important to develop solutions to address these key factors,” said American Medical Association President Dr. Susan R. Bailey, in a statement about the new bill.

“The AMA applauds Senators Sullivan and Murphy for introducing the Leveraging Integrated Networks in Communities (LINC) to Address Social Needs Act as it develops actionable solutions via grants and public-private partnerships to better connect physicians and other health care providers to social services organizations that help patients overcome long standing challenges associated with social determinants of health.”

“It is more important now than ever, in the face of nationwide COVID-19 related health and social challenges, that we make critical investments in child and family health,” said Dr. Kara Odom Walker, chief population health officer at Nemours Children’s Health System. “The LINC to Address Social Needs Act would make such an investment in technology infrastructure to connect health care and community social service organizations, addressing the growing need for whole-child and whole-family care.”

House offers its spin on telehealth modernization

On Tuesday, meanwhile, Senators Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, reintroduced the Telehealth Modernization Act.

And on Friday, Representatives Earl ‘Buddy’ Carter, R-Georgia, and Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Delaware, introduced the companion bill, in the House.

In addition to the permanent policy changes in the Senate version, the house bill calls for permanent elimination of geographic and originating site restrictions for Medicare telehealth, while designating homes as eligible distant sites.

It also gives HHS authority to permanently expand the types of Medicare telehealth coverage (including services used for hospice and home dialysis care) and allows HHS to broaden the types of care providers able to deliver those services, such as physical therapists and other allied health professionals.

Many stakeholders have urged passage of the Telehealth Moderization Act have stressed the urgency of safeguarding access, even after the COVID-19 public health emergency has subsided.

The American Telemedicine Association applauded the House and Senate bills, noting that they compliment the CONNECT for Health Act, leading to “policies that will allow our healthcare system to build a two-channel care delivery model, balancing in-person and virtual care to best serve the needs of all patients, no matter where or when they need care,” according to an ATA statement.

“The American people should feel heartened that both chambers of Congress are taking such a strong and united bipartisan stance in favor of telehealth, to ensure all individuals, no matter where they live, have permanent access to safe, effective, and quality care wherever and whenever needed,” said ATA CEO Ann Mond Johnson.

Source: Bipartisan bills gain support for telehealth reform, SDOH coordination

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