Schatz Leads Bipartisan Group In Introducing New Legislation To Expand Telehealth Services, Improve Health Outcomes, And Cut Costs

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.) introduced the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2019, bipartisan legislation that would expand telehealth services through Medicare, improve health outcomes, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help cut costs for patients and providers.

“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. “This bill will help ensure that every American gets the care they need no matter where they live.”

“Telehealth has enabled more people to connect to quality care than ever before, helping to lower costs and improve outcomes,” Senator Wicker said. “This bipartisan legislation recognizes the success of telehealth programs in states like Mississippi, builds on past legislative achievements, and advances access to lifesaving tools for more Americans.”

“Greater use of telehealth will benefit patients and doctors. It’s working today for those with access and, with this legislation, we have the opportunity to expand its use within Medicare, taking advantage of emerging technologies to lower costs and increase efficiency,” said Senator Cardin. “I’m proud to be a partner 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.”

“In South Dakota, telehealth is critical to ensuring patients in rural areas can access the health care services they need, especially when it comes to emergency and specialty care,” said Senator Thune. “I appreciate the opportunity to work with my colleagues and stakeholders on this important bill to promote telehealth and expand access to services in South Dakota and across the country.”

“I’ve seen firsthand how hard it can be for Virginians to access health care in rural or underserved communities,” said Senator Warner. “From my time as Governor through my years in the Senate, I’ve constantly pushed to use innovation to increase health care accessibility for Virginians. This legislation will allow more individuals across Virginia and our country to take advantage of telehealth services that require less travel time and provide affordable, quality care.”

“The usefulness and value of telehealth technologies continues to grow as more people benefit from this affordable health care delivery option. This bipartisan bill would continue our work to tear down the barriers to telehealth. Its enactment would help Mississippi, already a national leader in telemedicine outreach, deliver care to even more people, especially those in underserved and rural communities,” said Senator Hyde-Smith.

According to studies, telehealth has been shown to improve care and patient satisfaction while reducing hospitalizations. The CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 builds on the progress made in recent years to increase the use of telehealth through Medicare. Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the authority to waive telehealth restrictions when necessary;
  • Remove geographic and originating site restrictions for services like mental health and emergency medical care;
  • Allow rural health clinics and other community-based health care centers to provide telehealth services; and
  • Require a study to explore more ways to expand telehealth services so that more people can access health care services in their own homes.

Schatz and the Senate telehealth working group first introduced the CONNECT for Health Act in 2016. Since then, a number of provisions have been signed into law or adopted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Today’s updated version includes new key measures health care experts, providers, and patient advocates agree will help improve access to care and drive down costs.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio).

The CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 has the support of more than 100 organizations including AARP, ACT | The App Association, Alliance for Connected Care, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, American Medical Group Association, American Nurses Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Telemedicine Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Connected Health Initiative, Federation of American Hospitals, Health Innovation Alliance, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Association of Rural Health Clinics, and the Personal Connected Health Alliance.

“This legislation would benefit patients by removing antiquated restrictions in the Medicare program that prevent physicians from using widely available medical technology that has become commonplace in the past decade. Increased access to telehealth is urgently needed to help meet the health needs of the swiftly changing demographics of our senior population. The CONNECT for Health Act’s expansion of telehealth coverage in the Medicare program also will spur increased investment and innovation in delivery redesign to benefit all patients,” said Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A., President of the American Medical Association. “The AMA strongly supports the CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 and applauds Senators Schatz, Wicker, Cardin, Thune, Warner, and Hyde-Smith for their continued leadership on telehealth issues, and we look forward to seeing this vital bill advance in Congress.”

For a copy of the bill, click here. A summary of the bill is available here.

###