Legislation Introduced Allowing Veterans to Receive Telehealth Services in Their Homes Across State Lines
November 20, 2015 12:40 PM
On Wednesday, November 18, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act of 2015 (VETS Act), which would expand telehealth services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Committee is considering the legislation for approval in order to send it to the full Senate. The legislation was introduced in October by Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) along with 9 other original cosponsors. The House version was introduced earlier this year by Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) along with 11 other original cosponsors. The proposal has bipartisan support, with a total of 13 cosponsors for the Senate version (S. 2170) and 23 for the House version (H.R. 2516).
The legislation amends current law in order to allow VA health professionals to practice telemedicine across state lines for patients in their homes. While a VA health professional may practice telehealth for patients in their homes if they are in the same state, current law prevents VA health professionals from conducting telehealth across state lines for patients in their homes. In order for a VA health professional to treat a patient across state lines, the patient must visit a federal facility. “For example,” Senator Ernst said, “a veteran in my small town of Red Oak, Iowa who wishes to have a telemedicine appointment with a doctor at the VA hospital in Omaha, Nebraska - that’s closest to my hometown - an hour away, must drive to the VA center in Des Moines. A two-hour drive. By contrast, if the doctor was based in Des Moines, the patient could remain in their home in Red Oak and have a telemedicine appointment.”
Ernst said, “rural veterans are often faced with the struggle of making it to a VA facility in the city. Increasing opportunities for telemedicine is a great way to tackle this challenge for services.” The change the legislation would make is “straightforward, commonsense, and builds upon this work that the VA is already doing in telemedicine.” Senator Hirono added that the legislation will “build on a VA telemedicine program that is proven to work and removes barriers to accessing care particularly for veterans in rural areas like Hawaii’s Neighbor Islands.”
Senate VA Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) said, “In large geographic territories, legislation like this is a godsend.” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an original cosponsor of the bill, has also praised the effort. “Travel to a VA facility can be a real hardship for some veterans for whom it isn’t easy to get to the nearest clinic or hospital that offers the care they need,” Grassley said. “Telehealth can make it less necessary to go to a facility as often and still help veterans get medical treatment.”
The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) supports improving access to care for veterans in their homes provided by qualified home health agencies. “Congress should continue to improve upon the scope of home health services available to veterans,” NAHC stated in its 2015 Legislative Blueprint for Action. “Alternative levels of care should be available to our nation’s veterans. Institutionalization should not be the only method for providing care to chronically ill or rehabilitating veterans. Since Congress saw fit to provide home care services to veterans, this care should include the full range of services, including telehealth services, and be provided by qualified home health agencies.”