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Schatz, Wicker Lead Bipartisan Group Of 60 Senators In Reintroducing Legislation To Expand Telehealth Access, Make Permanent Telehealth Flexibilities

CONNECT For Health Act Holds Broad Bipartisan Support, Most Comprehensive Legislation On Telehealth In Congress

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) led a bipartisan group of 60 senators in reintroducing the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act. 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. Telehealth is helping people in every part of the country get the care they need, and it’s here to stay,” said Senator Schatz. “Our comprehensive bill makes it easier for more people to see their doctors no matter where they live.”

“Telehealth is a revolutionary development in health care delivery. The internet put communications and commerce in the palm of our hand, and it is now doing the same for health care,” said Senator Wicker. “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.”

“Telehealth has proven itself as a valuable tool in delivering essential care, and one that has helped address health disparities for populations with diminished access to care,” said Senator Cardin. “I’m proud to join my colleagues on this bipartisan bill that will increase the availability of telehealth and help deliver better health care to Americans in every part of Maryland and across the country.”

“South Dakotans have long understood the value of telehealth, and it’s time to take what we’ve learned from the pandemic and work to expand its availability,” said Senator Thune. “Increasing access to telehealth services, especially for folks in rural areas, remains a top priority for me, and I’m proud to support this bill that builds on those efforts.”

“One of the lessons we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that our health care system is more adaptable than we thought. Over the last three years, patients have received quality care from the comfort of their own homes through the expansion of telehealth services. I’m proud to introduce legislation that will make permanent some of these services and ensure Virginians continue to have access to the affordable health care they need when they need it,” said Senator Warner.

“The pandemic showed us just how valuable telehealth is to ensuring folks receive care, but telehealth’s use goes far beyond navigating public health emergencies,” said Senator Hyde-Smith. “Mississippians and Americans face many obstacles accessing healthcare, whether it’s living in rural areas, old age, or mobility issues. This legislation would be key to providing them with the quality, affordable care they need and deserve. It’s time to get this done.”

In addition to Senators Schatz, Wicker, Cardin, Thune, Warner, and Hyde-Smith, the CONNECT for Health is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Katie Britt (R-Ala.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Todd Young (R-Ind.). Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).

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.

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; and
  • 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 U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio).

“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. 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. We deeply appreciate Senators Schatz, Wicker, Cardin, Thune, Warner, and Hyde-Smith for their continued leadership on the CONNECT for Health Act of 2023,” said Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, President of the American Medical Association.

The CONNECT for Health Act has the support of more than 150 organizations including AARP, America’s Essential Hospitals, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Nurse Practitioners, American Heart Association, American Medical Association, American Medical Group Association, American Nurses Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Telemedicine Association, Consumer Technology Association, Federation of American Hospitals, HIMSS, Kaiser Permanente, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Quality Forum, National Association of Rural Health Clinics, National Rural Health Association, and Teladoc Health.

A summary of the bill and the full list of endorsing organizations are available here.

The full text of the bill is available here.