Collins, King Co-Sponsor Bipartisan Bill to Expand Telehealth Access Amid COVID-19

Telehealth use among Medicare beneficiaries increased by 13,000% in just a month and a half during the pandemic

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in introducing the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2021. The legislation would 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 bill was led by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), John Thune (R-SD), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS).

 

“Telehealth services have been a lifeline to patients and providers during the pandemic, ensuring that individuals can continue to receive quality health care from the safety and convenience of their own homes,” said Senator Collins. “This bipartisan bill would permanently expand telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries, allowing Maine seniors to continue to take advantage of remote home health care amid the COVID-19 public health emergency and beyond.”

 

“Maine people have relied on telehealth throughout the coronavirus pandemic to safely access vital health services from their homes – removing both the burden of long drives and their COVID concerns.  These services have quite literally been lifesaving, especially for older Americans,” said Senator King. “Expanding coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, including audio-only options, was the right move – making it much easier for older Americans to stay connected to their healthcare providers – and now Congress must act to make that rule permanent. This important benefit should not end with the pandemic, and I’m proud to support bipartisan legislation to help rural and older Americans access healthcare without difficult and often time-consuming trips to the doctor.”

 

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.

 

The CONNECT for Health Act 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. 

 

This legislation builds on that progress and includes new and revised provisions that would 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 emergencies; and

·        Require a study to learn more about how telehealth has been used during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Last year, Senators Collins and King joined a bipartisan, bicameral group of 49 lawmakers in calling for the expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic to be made permanent.

 

In addition to Senators Collins and King, the legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Chris Coons (D-Del.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Bill Cassidy (R-La.).

 

Click HERE to read a summary of the bill and the full list of endorsing organizations.

 

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