Schatz Leads Group in Reintroducing Legislation To Expand Telehealth Access
US Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) led a bipartisan group of 50 senators in reintroducing the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies for Health Act of 2021.
The CONNECT for Health Act will expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make permanent COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities, improve health outcomes and make it easier for patients to safely connect with their doctors.
“The last year has shown us that telehealth works, it’s popular, and it’s here to stay,” said Senator Schatz. “Our comprehensive bill makes it easier for more people to safely get the care they need no matter where they live.”
Three provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act were included in COVID-19 relief legislation to expand access to telehealth during the pandemic. As a result, telehealth has seen a sharp rise in use since the start of pandemic as patients seek to avoid traveling to hospitals and other health care settings and instead receive care at home. Data shows that the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased by about 13,000 percent in just a month and a half during the pandemic, according to the senator.
The CONNECT for Health Act was first introduced in 2016 and is considered the most comprehensive legislation on telehealth in Congress. Since 2016, several provisions of the bill were enacted into law or adopted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, including provisions to remove restrictions on telehealth services for mental health, stroke care and home dialysis.
The updated version of the CONNECT for Health Act builds on that progress and includes new and revised provisions that will help more people access telehealth services. Specifically, the legislation will:
- Permanently remove all geographic restrictions on telehealth services and expand originating sites to include the home and other sites;
- Allow health centers and rural health clinics to provide telehealth services, a provision currently in place due to the pandemic but on a temporary basis;
- Remove restrictions on Indian Health Service and Native Hawaiian Health Systems facilities;
- Provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the permanent authority to waive telehealth restrictions, a provision currently in place due to the pandemic but on a temporary basis;
- Allow for the waiver of telehealth restrictions during public health emergencies; and
- Require a study to learn more about how telehealth has been used during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The CONNECT for Health Act has the support of more than 150 organizations.
“This past year with COVID has shown us how critically important access to telehealth is for the health and well-being of our patients and community. Temporary fixes have been put into place to improve access in response to COVID; now, these changes need to be made permanent – which is what CONNECT is designed to do,” said Diana Shaw, Executive Director of the Lānaʻi Community Health Center.
“Federal action to expand telehealth services during the pandemic has been a lifeline that helped keep patients connected to care and allowed health centers to keep their doors open,” said Tom Van Coverden, president and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers. “For patients on Medicare, especially people living in rural areas, without access to smart phones or reliable broadband, expanded telehealth flexibilities are essential to health and wellness. We cannot reverse progress, especially now. The CONNECT for Health Act ensures health centers can permanently extend these services for our Medicare population and the underserved. We are deeply grateful for the leadership of Senators Brian Schatz and Roger Wicker, as well as their colleagues on the Senate telehealth working group, in advancing this important legislation.”