Schatz leads bipartisan effort to expand telehealth coverage, improve patient care
US Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) joined colleagues in leading a bipartisan group of 60 senators in reintroducing the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies for Health Act.
Fellow senators joining in the reintroduction included: Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.).
The CONNECT for Health Act of 2023 will expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make permanent COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities, improve health outcomes, and make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors.
In December, Schatz secured the inclusion of provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act to the FY23 government funding bill that temporarily extended access to expanded telehealth services. Those provisions are set to expire in 2025, making the need for permanent telehealth policy even more urgent.
“While telehealth use has skyrocketed these last few years, our laws have not kept up,” said Schatz. “Telehealth is helping people in every part of the country get the care they need, and it’s here to stay. Our comprehensive bill makes it easier for more people to see their doctors no matter where they live.”
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 would:
- Permanently remove all geographic restrictions on telehealth services and expand originating sites to include the home and other sites
- Permanently allow health centers and rural health clinics to provide telehealth services
- Allow more eligible health care professionals to utilize telehealth services
- Remove unnecessary in-person visit requirement for telemental health services
- Allow for the waiver of telehealth restrictions during public health emergencies
- Require more published data to learn more about how telehealth is being used, impacts of quality of care, and how it can be improved to support patients and health care providers.
Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by US Representatives Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio).
“Telehealth is a revolutionary development in health care delivery,” said Wicker. “The internet put communications and commerce in the palm of our hand and it is now doing the same for health care. After years of dedicated efforts, I am pleased to see the growing support for making flexibility in telehealth delivery permanent. The CONNECT for Health Act will move us toward Medicare beneficiaries receiving the healthcare they deserve.”
Three provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act were signed into law in 2020. As a result, there was a sharp rise in use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic as patients avoided traveling to hospitals and other health care settings and instead chose to receive care at home.
Data shows that telehealth provides essential access to care with nearly a quarter of Americans accessing telehealth in the past month.
“Throughout the pandemic, telehealth was an integral, indispensable tool for providing patient care, and it is vital that we maintain and build on the gains made over the past few years,” said Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, president of the American Medical Association. “Medicare coverage of telehealth offers immense opportunities to create better access to health care for rural and other underserved communities, reduces travel time, and serves as a vital tool for patients to receive seamless care with their existing physicians. Permanently extending telehealth coverage will benefit physicians and patients far and wide, ushering in a new era of patient care.”
The CONNECT for Health Act has the support of more than 150 organizations.