US Sen. Brian Schatz introduces bipartisan telehealth bill

On Wednesday, US Senator Brian Schatz introduced a bipartisan bill that aims to expand telehealth services through Medicare. The bill – the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2019 – looks to remove barriers to accessing care and reduce Medicare spending through telehealth.

Joining Schatz in introducing the bill were Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.).

 

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Telehealth is particularly important in rural parts of the country and in areas where there are health care workforce shortages, but some restrictions make it difficult to utilize. As a result, the bill states that only 0.25% of Medicare beneficiaries use telehealth services.

The goal of the new CONNECT for Health Act is to address some of these barriers. The bill would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to waive telehealth restrictions when necessary, allow rural health clinics and community-based care centers to provide telehealth services, and would remove geographic restrictions for services like mental health and emergency medical care.

The Act would also require a study be conducted to explore additional ways to expand telehealth services.

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

Telehealth has been a focus in Hawaii’s state legislature in recent years. During the 2019 session, the legislature passed a bill (SB 1246) establishing a workgroup to develop a report to the legislature on gaps in Hawaii’s telehealth statutes and best practices to increase the state’s utilization of telehealth.

“Telehealth utilization remains frustratingly low [in Hawaii]. A continuum of issues across multiple sectors must be addressed, such as incentives for provider adoption, patient comfort with new technology, health care workforce training, technology and telecommunications infrastructure, and administrative simplification between health systems,” reads SB 1246.

The CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 is endorsed by over 120 organizations according to a summary of the bill. The supporting organizations include AARP, the Alliance for Connected Care, the American Hospital Association, and the American Medical Association.

A bipartisan companion bill was also introduced in the House by Representatives Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio).