WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) along Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), John Thune (R-SD), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) have introduced bipartisan legislation to expand telehealth services through Medicare, improve health outcomes, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help cut costs for patients and providers. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), David Schweikert (R-AZ), and Bill Johnson (R-OH).
“I’ve seen firsthand how hard it can be for Virginians to access health care in rural or underserved communities,” said Sen. Warner. “From my time as Governor through my years in the Senate, I’ve constantly pushed to use innovation to increase health care accessibility for Virginians. This legislation will allow more individuals across Virginia and our country to take advantage of telehealth services that require less travel time and provide affordable, quality care.”
In studies, telehealth has been shown to improve care and patient satisfaction while reducing hospitalizations. The Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2019 builds on the progress made in recent years to increase the use of telehealth through Medicare. Specifically, the legislation would:
- Provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) the authority to waive telehealth restrictions when necessary;
- Remove geographic and originating site restrictions for services like mental health and emergency medical care;
- Allow rural health clinics and other community-based health care centers to provide telehealth services; and
- Require a study to explore more ways to expand telehealth services so that more people can access health care services in their own homes.
Sen. Warner, an original cosponsor of the 2016 CONNECT for Health Act, has been a longtime advocate for increased access to health care through telehealth. Last year, he successfully included a provision to expand telehealth services for substance abuse treatment in the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. In 2003, then-Gov. Warner expanded Medicaid coverage for telemedicine statewide, including evaluation and management visits, a range of individual psychotherapies, the full range of consultations, and some clinical services, including in cardiology and obstetrics. Coverage was also expanded to include non-physician providers. Among other benefits, the telehealth expansion allowed individuals in medically underserved and remote areas of Virginia to access quality specialty care that isn’t always available at home.
The CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 has the support of more than 100 organizations including AARP, ACT | The App Association, Alliance for Connected Care, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, American Medical Group Association, American Nurses Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Telemedicine Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Connected Health Initiative, Federation of American Hospitals, Health Innovation Alliance, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Association of Rural Health Clinics, and the Personal Connected Health Alliance.
“By reducing geographic and originating site restrictions in Medicare, the CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 will bridge the miles between patients and care, mitigate workforce shortages, and most importantly improve outcomes at lower costs for our nation’s vulnerable populations. Coupled with our national priority of expanding broadband access, these efforts will enable all Americans to enjoy better health and health related prosperity,” said Dr. Karen Rheuban, Director of the UVA Center for Telehealth.
“This legislation would benefit patients by removing antiquated restrictions in the Medicare program that prevent physicians from using widely available medical technology that has become commonplace in the past decade. Increased access to telehealth is urgently needed to help meet the health needs of the swiftly changing demographics of our senior population. The CONNECT for Health Act’s expansion of telehealth coverage in the Medicare program also will spur increased investment and innovation in delivery redesign to benefit all patients,” said Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A., President of the American Medical Association. “The AMA strongly supports the CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 and applauds Senators Schatz, Wicker, Cardin, Thune, Warner, and Hyde-Smith for their continued leadership on telehealth issues, and we look forward to seeing this vital bill advance in Congress.”