New Legislation Promotes Telehealth for Vets

Add one more bill to the list of telehealth-related legislation put forward in the 115th Congress since it convened in January. As Health Data Management first reported, a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers recently announced the introduction of the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act. Introduced in the House by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) and Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), and in the Senate by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), the legislation would remove some of the existing restrictions on VA providers’ practice of telehealth across state lines. As Rep. Brownley noted in a press release, “The VA has seen tremendous growth and interest in telehealth, and we should continue to find new ways to connect veterans with the providers that they need, no matter their physical location.”

The VETS Act would remove restrictions that are in place now on the practice of telehealth across state lines, meaning that qualified VA providers licensed in one state would be able to provide care via telehealth to patients in other states, regardless of whether or not the patient and provider are located in federal facilities. It would also expand eligible sites of care to include patients’ homes and community health centers, meaning that less travel would be required to receive treatment. Said Rep. Thompson, a longtime advocate for telehealth at the VA, “The VETS Act will eliminate multiple layers of bureaucracy, allowing our veterans to have greater access to mental and behavioral health services, especially in rural areas.”

The VA, per Rep. Brownley’s press release, has already sought to take advantage of telehealth for its many patients, with 2.14 million visits taking place in 2015, reaching more than 677,000 veterans. Studies have shown cost savings and reduced hospital stays from the usage of telehealth, along with high marks for patient satisfaction.

This session, as we recently reported, has been a prolific one for telehealth legislation. On April 6, Senate Finance Committee leaders announced the introduction of S. 870, the CHRONIC Care Act; the bill, which is aimed at improving the quality of care for high-cost patients enrolled in Medicare, includes key telehealth provisions. At the end of March, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced S. 787, the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act, which would expand Medicare’s coverage of telehealth services by permitting eligible hospitals, through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), to test the increased use of telehealth care. In February, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) introduced versions of the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act in both chambers. The bill, which seeks to expand access to telestroke care, has drawn bipartisan support on both sides of the Capitol.

Click here for the article from Health Data Management on the VETS Act.

Click here for the press release from Rep. Brownley on the VETS Act.

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