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Spanberger Backs Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Expand Access to Telehealth Services for Seniors, Lower Healthcare Costs for Central Virginia Medicare Recipients Amid COVID-19

The CONNECT for Health Act Builds on Much of the Progress Made in Recent Years to Telehealth Services

HENRICO, V.A. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today announced her support for a bipartisan bill to expand access to critical telehealth services for Central Virginia Medicare recipients.

Medicare continues to lag behind private payers, other federal health programs, and states in adapting its payment methodologies to include telehealth capabilities. For example, patients’ homes are not classified under current Medicare regulations as eligible originating sites for healthcare services, so Medicare cannot pay for telehealth services if a patient is at their home.

To reform Medicare’s outdated restrictions on telehealth reimbursements, Spanberger cosponsored the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, which would eliminate barriers to Medicare beneficiaries’ access to telehealth. Additionally, the legislation would allow appropriate mental health and emergency care services to be delivered through telehealth, improve the process of adding telehealth to approved services lists, and add Rural Health Clinics and Federally-Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to the list of approved telehealth sites.

“In a period marked by tremendous uncertainty for both patients and providers, we need to focus on building additional avenues for our healthcare professionals to deliver timely, high-quality care to the individuals who need it most. Congress is long overdue to modernize Medicare’s reimbursement policies, and commonsense changes to the program’s existing telehealth requirements have the opportunity to both lower costs for Central Virginia seniors and keep healthcare workers safe during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Spanberger. “My support for the CONNECT for Health Act comes at a time when we see tremendous advancements and innovation in the field of telehealth. By allowing Medicare beneficiaries to receive greater access to routine care at their homes, we are using this technological advantage to lower costs, lower risk, and make seeing the doctor easier for Central Virginia’s seniors.”

"We appreciate Congresswoman Spanberger's timely leadership in advocating for needed changes to telehealth coverage policy. Through the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen firsthand the need for innovative models of access to high-quality care, no matter the barriers,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., Interim CEO, VCU Health System. “The Connect for Health Act builds on that foundation to help mitigate health disparities for our most vulnerable patient populations."  

“The medical professionals and staff at Bon Secours are working around the clock during this pandemic to deliver the highest quality of care to thousands of patients across Central Virginia. As we look to maintain the established standard of care that our patients expect from our team, telehealth continues to provide new opportunities to treat seniors in the comfort and safety of their homes,” said Faraaz Yousuf, Richmond Market President, Bon Secours. “We’d like to thank Congresswoman Spanberger for championing stronger internet connectivity across Virginia, and we appreciate her efforts to reform Medicare’s telehealth reimbursement policies. This bipartisan legislation, if enacted, would allow for greater access to telehealth services for our patients — and it would remove unnecessary barriers for hospital systems like Bon Secours.”

“We applaud the House for recognizing the role of Federally Qualified Health Centers and the importance of expanding telehealth services across Virginia and the nation,” said Rick Shinn, Director of Government Affairs, Virginia Community Healthcare Association. “We thank Representative Spanberger for her interest in expanding telehealth into rural Virginia, and for cosponsoring this important legislation. Passage of this bill would allow health centers to provide more access to health care for many Virginians, particularly those covered under the Medicare program.”

“By making permanent many of the geographic and originating site restrictions waived during the COVID-19 pandemic, we now have a timely opportunity to build on the many telehealth transformations adopted during COVID-19  to improve outcomes for all Americans,” said Dr. Karen Rheuban, Director, University of Virginia Center for Telehealth. “Sustaining these changes, resoundingly  embraced by patients and providers alike, prepares us for future public health emergencies and further advances our national priorities of improved health and prosperity.”

"We support innovative solutions which leverage technology to deliver better health care to Virginians and elsewhere across America,” said Clifford L. Deal III, MD, FACS, President, Medical Society of Virginia. “Physicians will always seek new ways to provide care for their patients.”

“The value of telehealth is obvious during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Krista Drobac, Executive Director, Alliance for Connected Care. “Passage of the CONNECT for Heath Act would give permanent flexibility to the Secretary of HHS to extend telehealth to seniors for the long term.”

The CONNECT for Health Act builds on the progress made in recent years to increase the use of telehealth through Medicare. Specifically, the CONNECT for Health Act would:

  • Allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to waive telehealth restrictions if the waiver would not limit the coverage of beneficiaries and would reduce spending,
  • Expand telehealth for mental health services by including the home as an originating site, similar to enacted language affecting telestroke, home dialysis, and substance use disorder services,
  • Remove restrictions on FQHCs and Rural Health Clinics that currently prevent them from serving as distant sites for purposes of providing telehealth services,
  • Encourage the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to test telehealth reimbursement models.

The CONNECT for Health Act is led in the U.S. House by U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA-05), Peter Welch (D-VT-AL), Bill Johnson (R-OH-06), and David Schweikert (R-AZ-06). A companion bill is led in the U.S. Senate by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS).

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