Warner, Kaine reintroduce legislation to expand telehealth services
U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine have reintroduced the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2021.
The CONNECT for Health Act, also introduced by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), John Thune (R-SD) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), 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.
“If we’ve learned anything in the past 14 months, it’s that people are better off when they’re able to see a doctor quickly, easily, and from the comfort of home. This is particularly the case for folks in rural or medically underserved communities, who may otherwise have to travel long distances to get basic medical services,” said Sen. Warner. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation, which will enable Virginians to make the most of telehealth capabilities and access the quality and affordable health care they need as soon as they need it.”
“Over the last year, telehealth has been crucial to safely delivering care to underserved communities,” said Sen. Kaine. “As we begin to recover and rebuild our nation, we should be making it easier for Americans to access quality health care. The permanent expansion of telehealth coverage would do just that, so I am proud to cosponsor this bipartisan effort.”
Several provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act were included in COVID-19 relief legislation to expand access to telehealth during the pandemic and fund its implementation. 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 emergenciess.
- Require a study to learn more about how telehealth has been used during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA), David Schweikert (R-AZ), Peter Welch (D-VT), Bill Johnson (R-OH), and Doris Matsui (D-CA).