WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), and Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) led a group of 39 lawmakers Wednesday in calling on Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to support Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), a telehealth mentoring model developed in New Mexico that enhances health care and workforce capacity in underserved areas.
Project ECHO provides community-based primary care teams with the evidence-based knowledge and training needed to manage patients with complex conditions. Specifically, the New Mexico delegation encouraged HHS to use existing authorities under Medicare and Medicaid to expand Project ECHO’s reach nationwide.
“The Department of Health and Human Services has identified value-based care as one of four core priorities to improve the health and well-being of the American people. In order to achieve that worthy objective, we must identify and support new and emerging health care delivery models in Medicare and Medicaid,” wrote the lawmakers. “We believe that Project ECHO, and technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity-building models more generally, help to move us closer to this goal.”
“Despite growing interest and some financial support from the federal government and specific states, no ongoing funding streams exist to support Project ECHO, and technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models more broadly. We respectfully request your consideration of the below actions—using existing authorities—that could accelerate ECHO’s integration into the health care delivery system, and, in doing so, advance federal and state efforts to provide value-based care,” the lawmakers wrote.
Project ECHO is a telehealth model that was developed in New Mexico and connects primary care physicians in rural or underserved areas with specialists to provide coordinated care and improve outcomes for patients, particularly in communities with limited access specialty care services. Originally designed to combat the Hepatitis-C epidemic in New Mexico, Project ECHO now enables patients to get treatment for a diverse array of disease conditions from various levels of health care providers, and it has grown to serve communities nationwide and internationally.
“We’re grateful for the bipartisan support from Congress for using technology enabled collaborative learning to get better care to people in rural and underserved parts of the country who need it most,” said Dr. Sanjeev Arora, founder and director of Project ECHO. “Guidance from CMS on financing strategies through Medicaid and Medicare will make it easier for states to start up or expand existing ECHO projects. It will help keep people in their communities getting good care from providers they know and trust.”
In addition to being a successful tool for tackling hard-to-treat diseases, the Project ECHO model has been used to treat behavioral health issues, improve patient care and satisfaction, increase knowledge and reduce isolation for providers, and improve retention rates for physicians in rural, underserved areas. Project ECHO is also looking for innovative ways to democratize information so medical professionals can get the support and professional development they need to keep up with the rapidly changing world of medicine.
The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), & Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), David McKinley (R-Ore.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Pete Stauber (D-Minn.), Josh Harder (D-Calif.), Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Ben McAdams (D-Utah), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Kevin Hern (R-O.K.), Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), & Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)