The AHA Nov. 22 commended the Senate Finance Committee Chronic Care Working Group (CCWG) on the release of its recent draft legislation to address the needs of Medicare beneficiaries and recommended further refinements.

“We appreciate the deliberate and thoughtful process undertaken by the CCWG to solicit feedback from stakeholders, and are pleased to see many of our priorities for improving care for those with chronic conditions reflected in the discussion draft,” wrote AHA Executive Vice President Tom Nickels.

The discussion draft released Oct. 27 focuses on increasing access to high-quality home care for patients with chronic conditions, advancing team-based care, expanding the use of technology in caring for these patients, improving identification of such patients, and empowering patients and caregivers to better coordinate care. Treatment for patients with chronic diseases accounts for 86% of the nation’s health care spending, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In its letter, the AHA applauded the workgroup for proposing some expansions to the Medicare telehealth benefit.

The AHA urged the workgroup to include more comprehensive changes in its next draft – such as eliminating the geographic location and practice setting originating site requirements and removing restrictions on covered services and technologies (including store-and-forward technology and remote patient monitoring), “which are necessary to realize fully the promise of telehealth.” The AHA also urged the workgroup to address behavioral health needs in its next draft.

“We support the integration of physical and behavioral health and urge the CCWG to continue to consider policy solutions to address this important area,” the AHA wrote. “Research studies have identified a strong association between mental health disorders, such as severe depression, and serious chronic physical diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Untreated mental health disorders can impair a patient’s ability to seek or fully participate in recommended treatment for chronic diseases, impeding recovery and worsening outcomes.”