A bill that seeks to remove current restrictions by allowing VA clinicians to treat veterans via telehealth, regardless of location, is gaining momentum in Congress.
Under current law, VA physicians can only waive state licensing requirements and provide telehealth treatment across state lines if both the veteran and the doctor are located in a federally owned facility. However, the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act of 2017 removes these barriers and would allow VA health professionals to practice telehealth across state lines, as long as they are qualified and practice within the scope of their authorized federal duties.
In addition, under provisions of the VETS Act, veterans would no longer be required to travel to a VA facility and instead could receive telemedicine treatment from any location, including their home or a community center.
The bill was introduced this week in the House of Representatives by Reps. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) and Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.). A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
“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,” said Brownley in a written statement. “The VETS Act will empower veterans with more options and greater access to the care that they have earned and deserve.”
The proposed legislation has received support from industry groups, including the American Telemedicine Association and Health IT Now.
“The VETS Act takes commonsense steps to removing artificial barriers standing in the way of veterans’ access to healthcare,” said Joel White, executive director of Health IT Now. “Reps. Thompson and Brownley and Senators Hirono and Ernst rightly recognize how technology and telehealth can alleviate geographic burdens on both patients and providers.”
For its part, ATA sent a letter in late March to VETS Act co-sponsor Senator Ernst, expressing the group’s strong support for the bill, which—among other provisions—would create a state licensure exemption to allow VA-credentialed healthcare professionals to work across state lines to perform telemedicine without having to obtain a new license in that state.
“This will allow a VA health professional to serve a veteran with a single state license,” wrote Jonathan Linkous, the ATA’s chief executive officer. “In 2011, Congress, without opposition, gave comparable statutory authority to the Department of Defense for health providers and patients. We supported that legislation and have supported comparable authority for the Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal healthcare since then.”
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