VA lends support to telehealth initiatives by eliminating co-pays for virtual consultations

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Telehealth is one of the fastest-growing areas of the healthcare IT industry. Although primarily restricted to the consumer market at present, officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently lent their support to telehealth in clinical practice by announcing they would eliminate co-pays for patients taking advantage of virtual consultations, reports Healthcare IT News.

The VA hopes to accelerate the adoption of video conference-based physician consultations as part of its Home-Based Primary Care (HBPC) program. Officials at the organization proposed that patients using this service be exempt from the co-pays typically associated with visits to physicians at care facilities.

“We applaud the VA for recognizing that co-payments can shift patients to more costly settings and increase healthcare costs,” Billy Tauzin, chairman and senior counsel to the organization, said in a statement. “By eliminating this counterproductive barrier, the VA is making it possible for more veterans to receive clinically advanced, cost-effective care in their own homes.”

By implementing similar initiatives at the Northwest Health Network, which serves Alaska, Washington state, Oregon and parts of Idaho, California and Montana, the organization saved more than $740,000 using telehealth technology. The VA Roseburg Healthcare System in Oregon saved almost $90,000 by transitioning approximately 3,200 patients to virtual consultations.

Roy Schoenberg, chief executive officer of American Well, told Computerworld that the announcement by the VA serves as an example of how government can advance important healthcare IT initiatives ahead of the private sector.

Schoenberg added that the commercial market could soon follow suit, as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) often coordinate closely with the VA in terms of policy. In turn, many large insurance providers such as Blue Shield and United Healthcare typically adopt positions based on the actions of the CMS, which could lead to increased adoption of telehealth in clinical practice.