Legislation to permit physicians to treat veterans via telehealth regardless of location is getting support from the Department of Veterans Affairs and industry groups.
At a November 18 hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) signaled his approval of the proposed Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2015, called the VETS Act. Curtis Coy, the Veterans Benefits Administration’s deputy under secretary for economic opportunity, also supported the bill in testimony before the committee.
Coy told lawmakers that the department supports Section 2(a) of the bill that would “allow VA employed or contracted healthcare professionals who are professionally licensed in a state and practicing within the scope of their VA employment or contract, to provide healthcare and to support the provision of healthcare to the VA patient by telemedicine, without regard to where the healthcare professional is licensed or where the patient and the healthcare professional are physically located” and would “permit VA employees and contract healthcare professionals and VA patients to be located anywhere during such telemedicine, including in a non-VA facility.”
Under current law, the VA can only waive state physician licensing requirements if both the physician and patient are located in a federally owned facility.
Health IT Now—a coalition of providers, patient advocates, consumers, employers, and payers—sent a Nov. 18 letter to VETS Act cosponsors Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), expressing its strong support for the legislation, which it believes removes artificial barriers to the utilization of telehealth. “In a modern world of increased travel and technology utilization, healthcare should not be restricted by state borders,” the group told the senators.
Health IT Now commended the VA for being a leader in telehealth, which has proven beneficial in improving health outcomes and lowering costs. “Within the VA, home telehealth services reduced bed days of care by 59 percent and hospital admissions by 35 percent,” states the letter, yet “despite these advances and outcomes, artificial geographical restrictions on the use of telehealth constrain its growth within the VA.”
The group concluded that it is “unacceptable that our veterans must overcome artificial barriers when attempting to access healthcare.”
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