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Lankford Pushes to Expand Telehealth Access

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) joined Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and 50 senators to introduce the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act. The CONNECT for Health Act will expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make permanent COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities, improve health outcomes, and make it easier for patients to safely connect with their doctors.

“The pandemic forced Oklahomans to adapt in many ways, but one positive change we saw was the expansion of telehealth access to help increase access to care and reduce the spread of COVD-19, particularly for senior adults,” said Lankford. “Telehealth primary care visits in Oklahoma increased by one-third during the pandemic, and it’s important that we make this option permanently available for Medicare patients who want to meet virtually with their doctor and health team.”

“The last year has shown us that telehealth works, it’s popular, and it’s here to stay,” said Schatz. “Our comprehensive bill makes it easier for more people to safely get the care they need no matter where they live.”

Three provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act were included in COVID-19 relief legislation 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.

The CONNECT for Health Act was first introduced in 2016, and several provisions of the bill were enacted into law or adopted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, including provisions to remove restrictions on telehealth services for mental health, stroke care, and home dialysis. 

The CONNECT for Health Act builds on that progress and includes new and revised provisions that will help more people access telehealth services. Specifically, the legislation will:

  • 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.

The CONNECT for Health Act has the support of more than 150 organizations including AARP, America’s Essential Hospitals, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Hospital Association, American Heart Association, American Medical Association, American Medical Group Association, American Nurses Association, American Telemedicine Association, Children’s National Hospital, eHealth Initiative, Federation of American Hospitals, Health Innovation Alliance, HIMSS, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Association of Rural Health Clinics, National Rural Health Association, Personal Connected Health Alliance, and Teladoc Health.

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