Telehealth bill offers Congress a shot at bipartisan reform
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Chances are you’ve heard a lot of talk about the upcoming midterm elections. Win or lose, however, incumbents in Congress will have a responsibility to get back to work serving their constituents on Nov. 7.

After the votes are tallied, four weeks will remain in the House of Representatives’ legislative calendar, and we should make them count. To start, Congress must pass a responsible funding bill to keep the federal government running after current funding for most programs expires on Dec. 7 – and we also have an opportunity to finish this session strong by passing bipartisan legislation that can save lives.

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As the founder of the Congressional Telehealth Caucus and a registered nurse for more than 45 years, one area that I believe remains ripe for reform is health care.

Despite what you’ve seen on cable news, Democrats and Republicans can actually share common ground on health policy. This year, I worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the House Ways and Means Committee to write legislation combating the nationwide opioid epidemic that has been sent to the president for his signature. These bills will begin to reverse the crisis and free precious lives from the cruel grip of addiction that hits far too close to home in communities across the country – and especially in Tennessee.

And weeks ago, Congress put a bill fully funding the Department of Health and Human Services on the president’s desk before the end of the fiscal year for the first time in more than two decades.

As we look to the future of health care delivery in our country, we should apply the same bipartisan approach. That is why I am a proud sponsor of the Reducing Unnecessary Senior Hospitalizations (RUSH) Act of 2018.

Simply put, this bill would make it easier for nursing homes to treat patients in place when facing a health challenge, instead of subjecting them to disorienting and costly trips to the emergency room – 45 percent of which are estimated to be unnecessary. It does this using a model built on a combination of on-site first responders and a telemedicine connection to an emergency physician who can deliver real-time care from miles away.

Look at the roster of congressional supporters of the RUSH Act and you’ll see a smattering of conservatives and progressives alike, along with advocacy organizations like the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, and Health IT Now. That’s because the way we apply technology to health care doesn’t have to be something that divides us along party lines.

No matter one’s political affiliation, chances are we all have elderly loved ones and can agree that nursing home patients deserve to receive compassionate care in the familiarity of their own surroundings whenever possible.

Sadly, statistics tell us that one in five patients admitted to a nursing home will wind up in a hospital within 30 days. This bill would use the technology of today to change this broken status quo, instantly bringing the capabilities of an emergency room right to the patient’s bedside.

There are companies who are ready and able to provide this innovative care to our nation’s 1.4 million nursing home residents. I’ve seen them in action. These positive disruptors just need Medicare’s payment policies to catch up with the technology.

The RUSH Act is our chance to move Medicare into the 21st century; stemming the nursing home to hospital pipeline and giving these facilities the technology-enabled tools needed to lower health care costs and, most importantly, save lives.

As the year draws to a close, it would do this nurse proud to see congressional leaders finish strong by bringing the RUSH Act to a vote.

Black is a Republican from Tennessee’s 6th District.