A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate aims to improve healthcare access for veterans by expanding Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) telehealth services across state lines.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) worked with eight co-sponsors to introduce the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2015 (VETS Act) last week.
Current law allows the VA to waive the state licensure requirement for telehealth services if both the patient and physician are located in a federally owned facility. And, the VA may only perform at-home telehealth care when the patient and physician are located in the same state.
According to a statement from Sen. Jodi Ernst, 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 by camera or phone.
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.
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.
A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressmen Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Glen Thompson (R-PA).
"The bipartisan Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act moves us one step closer to achieving more affordable, patient-centered health care that our veterans deserve by embracing telehealth services to offer physician care and health treatment beyond the walls of a VA facility," Sen. Ernst said. "Telehealth care is an innovative and important means to meet the wide-ranging needs of veterans in Iowa and nationwide, including the invisible struggles of mental health care."