The Health IT Now Coalition, an organization comprised of healthcare providers, payers, patient groups and employers, wrote an endorsement letter of the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act (VETS Act of 2015) to the bill cosponsors Senators Joni Ernst and Mazie Hirono.
As previously reported by Healthcare Informatics, the bipartisan bill, S. 2170, proposes to expand healthcare access for veterans by easing telemedicine licensing requirements and enabling Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) telehealth services across state lines. Current rules require physicians using telemedicine to be licensed in the state where the patient resides.
According to Sen. Ernst (R-IA), these barriers are a deterrent for disabled and rural veterans who are seeking treatment from a physician in another state, and in some cases require veterans to travel great lengths to a federal facility before receiving telehealth services.
The VETS Act would enable qualified VA health professionals to operate across state lines and conduct telehealth services, including mental health care treatment, for veterans from their homes.
In the letter to Sens. Ernst and Hirono (D-HI), HITN Executive Director Joel White states that given the complex care needs of veterans and the growing strain on the resources of the Veterans Health Administration, telehealth has been beneficial in improving health outcomes and lowering healthcare costs.
“Within the VA, home telehealth services reduced bed days of care by 59 percent and hospital admissions by 35 percent,” White wrote.
White stated that “artificial geographical restrictions on the use of telehealth constrain its growth within the VA” and applauded the cosponsors of the VETS Act for attempting to “remove these restrictions by allowing physicians to treat veterans in their home, regardless of location.”
“In a modern world of increased travel and technology utilization, healthcare should not be restricted by state borders,” White wrote. “It is unacceptable that our veterans must overcome artificial barriers when attempting to access healthcare, and we commend you for your work to remove these restrictions.”
VA telehealth care grew by 18 percent among veterans in 2014 and more than 12 percent of veterans received elements of their care through telehealth services, according to the VA. Also, 44 percent of veterans who used telehealth services in 2014 lived in rural areas. The VA also estimates that home telehealth services save veterans on average $2,000 per year in healthcare-related costs.
While the bill has been endorsed by many veterans organizations, according to Modern Healthcare, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) has expressed concerns about oversight and accountability if physicians are practicing in states where they are not licensed.
FSMB adheres to the principle that the practice of medicine occurs in the state where the patient is located, which it says ensures oversight and accountability if a patient is harmed, and the organization said in its current form, the proposed VA legislation falls short of ensuring those protections.