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Rubio, Schatz, Wicker, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Permanently Expand Telehealth Access
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and 41 colleagues introduced the bipartisan, bicameral 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 by making certain COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities permanent, which would make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, improving patient health outcomes. Companion legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressmen Mike Thompson (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), David Schweikert (R-AZ), Bill Johnson (R-OH), and Doris Matsui (D-CA).
Through his work on the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Rubio has championed access to telehealth services for vulnerable populations, and secured language in the Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations bill to foster telehealth utilization in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“This past year has highlighted the power of telehealth to provide quality healthcare to millions, including previously underserved Floridians,” Rubio said. “Before Congress acted last year, countless Medicare beneficiaries were forced to drive hours just to talk to their doctors, care they can now access from their homes. This bill would take common sense steps to permanently provide Florida seniors increased access to critical medical services.”
“The last year has shown us that telehealth works, it’s popular, and it’s here to stay,” Schatz said. “Our comprehensive bill makes it easier for more people to safely get the care they need no matter where they live.”
“Telehealth is enabling more people to receive the care they need, leading to improved outcomes and lower costs,” Wicker said. “This bipartisan legislation would build on the success of telehealth in states like Mississippi to eliminate existing barriers and expand access to lifesaving care for more Americans.”
The CARES Act of 2020, which became law with Senator Rubio’s support, included three provisions 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.
To ensure Florida seniors can continue utilize telehealth services once the Public Health Emergency ends, the CONNECT for Health Act would build on the progress made in the CARES Act and take steps to increase permanent access. 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.