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Legislation to Modernize VA Health System Includes Telehealth Licensing Provision

December 6, 2017
by Heather Landi
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U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, introduced new legislation designed to modernize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system and includes a provision that would allow physicians to practice telemedicine across state lines.

The Veterans Community Care and Access Act of 2017 (S. 2184) would better integrate VA services and existing VA community care programs, such as the Veterans Choice Program, into an efficient and high-performing healthcare system, the Senators wrote in a press release.

This legislation would ensure that veterans are the primary decision-makers concerning when and where they receive care. In addition, the bill would require the VA to use objective data on healthcare demand to set standards for access and quality, and to identify and bridge gaps in veterans’ care – whether in VA or community facilities. Importantly, the bill would ensure the VA promptly pays community providers, offers access to walk-in clinics, offers telemedicine, increases graduate medical education and residency positions for employees, and improves its collaboration with community providers and other federal agencies.

Specifically, a section of the bill would expand authority fo rVA health care professionals to practice in any state, including by telemedicine, notwithstanding the location of the health care provider or the patient. This section would specifically invoke Federal supremacy to prevail over any general or specific provisions of law, rule, or regulation of a state that are inconsistent with the federal legislation. It would also prohibit any state from denying or revoking the license, registration, or certification of a VA health care professional who otherwise meets the requirements of the state for such license, registration, or certification, on the basis of practicing under this authority.

Covered health care professionals would include VA employees who are authorized to furnish health care. Additionally, under the legislation, the VA would be required to submit a report to Congress within one year of enactment on VA’s telemedicine program, including provider and patient satisfaction, the effect of telemedicine on wait-times and utilization, and other measures.

A standalone bill and bipartisan legislation, the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2017 (VETS Act), also aims to expand telehealth services provided by the VA and that bill passed the House last month.

“In the wake of the scandal in care at VA hospitals in Phoenix and around the country, we vowed to guarantee our veterans timely access to quality treatment,” Sen. McCain said in a statement. “The Veterans Choice Program was the first step in delivering on that promise, but much more needs to be done to provide all veterans a choice in when and where they receive care. Our bill would strengthen and improve the core elements of Choice by consolidating and streamlining the VA’s community care program. Moreover, the bill would deliver long overdue, critical reforms to the VA, including commonsense reporting standards that ensure cost-efficient care to our nation’s veterans. It’s time we transform the VA into a 21st century health care system, one that respects the dignity of our men and women in uniform and provides all veterans the quality health care they deserve.”

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