Senators introduce bill to expand use of telehealth in Medicare

Six U.S. senators on Wednesday introduced legislation aimed at tearing down the barriers to the use of telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries.

Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) introduced the bipartisan Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2019.

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According to the lawmakers, their bill will improve health outcomes, make it easier for patients to connect with their physicians, as well as help cut costs for patients and providers.

Specifically, if the CONNECT for Health Act is enacted, it would:

  • Provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services with 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.
  • Require a study to explore more ways to expand telehealth services so that more people can access healthcare services in their own homes.

“Telehealth is the future of healthcare—the technology is advancing, more providers and patients are relying on it, and we have broad bipartisan support,” said Schatz. “This bill will help ensure that every American gets the care they need, no matter where they live.”

The legislation has been endorsed by more than 120 organizations, including ACT|The App Association, American Telemedicine Association, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, the Electronic Health Record Association, the Health Innovation Alliance and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

“Patients receive their care today in an antiquated delivery system that needs to be modernized to reflect the tremendous advancements in technology,” said Joel White, executive director of the Health Innovation Alliance, (formerly Health IT Now), a coalition of patient groups, provider organizations, employers and payers. “Health Innovation Alliance believes telehealth is key to achieving this goal, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Congressional Telehealth Caucus to move the CONNECT for Health Act forward.”

In the House of Representatives, companion legislation has been introduced by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio).

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