House Overwhelmingly Passes VETS Act

It’s already been a banner year for telehealth on Capitol Hill, with more than two dozen (mostly bipartisan) pieces of legislation introduced. Now, telehealth advocates can point to another concrete legislative victory. As StripesmHealth Intelligence, and others first reported, on Tuesday, November 7, the House passed H.R. 2123, the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act, by voice vote. “I am pleased the House passed this bill today to allow our servicemen and women greater access to care—especially those in rural areas,” said Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), the legislation’s lead sponsor, in a statement following the legislation’s passage. “As our nation celebrates Veterans Day this weekend, it is particularly meaningful and sends a message that we put our veterans first.”

Introduced by Rep. Thompson, a longtime champion of telehealth (and the father of an Army staff sergeant), and Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), who serves as ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, the VETS Act would remove restrictions that are in place now on the practice of telehealth across state lines, meaning that qualified Department of Veterans Affairs (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. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced a Senate companion version of the bill, which, if it passes both chambers and is signed into law, would officially codify the VA’s recent proposed rule on telehealth. That rule, part of the VA’s new “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care” initiative, would permit all VA physicians to treat patients via telehealth across state lines, regardless of where they’re licensed.

The VETS Act is one of many bills introduced in the current legislative session that seek to expand access to telehealth care, and the second one to receive full passage in one of the two chambers. In September, the Senate unanimously passed the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act, which is aimed at improving the quality of care for high-cost patients with chronic conditions who are enrolled in Medicare. It includes key telehealth provisions, such as additional telehealth benefits for Medicare Advantage patients, and the expansion of originating sites to include patient homes for telehealth consults among those receiving dialysis services. Accountable care organizations (ACOs) would also be able to expand the telehealth services that they offered to beneficiaries. Also in September, two additional bills—the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act and the Increasing Telehealth Access in Medicare Act—cleared their respective committees of jurisdiction, and will now come before the full House for votes. While the timing of those floor votes is unclear, the committee passage served as welcome news to telehealth advocates.

Click here to read the mHealth Intelligence article on the VETS Act.

Click here to read the Stripes article on the VETS Act.

Click here to read Rep. Glenn Thompson’s press release on passage of the VETS Act.

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