In a bipartisan effort that recognizes patients' concerns about telehealth’s accessibility, the U.S. Senate promoted legislation to reduce barriers to care. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), John Thune (R-SD), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), along with 50 colleagues, introduced the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2021. The bill would “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.”

“If we’ve learned anything in the past 14 months, it’s that people are better off when they’re able to see a doctor quickly, easily, and from the comfort of home,” Warner said. “This is particularly the case for folks in rural or medically underserved communities, who may otherwise have to travel long distances to get basic medical services.”

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has changed health care forever and shed light on the issues limiting access to aspects of care. Concerns about privacy, connectivity, and expertise make telehealth a struggle for patients.

Three provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act were included in COVID-19 relief legislation to expand access to telehealth during the pandemic, increasing the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services by about 13,000% in just a month and a half during the pandemic. The updated version of the CONNECT for Health Act 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
  • Provide the secretary of Health and Human Services with the permanent authority to waive telehealth restrictions
  • Allow for the waiver of telehealth restrictions during public health emergencies
  • Require a study to learn more about how telehealth has been used during the pandemic

Telehealth is an ONS legislative priority in its Center for Advocacy and Health Policy. Join us as we meet with decision-makers to discuss the need for access to patient-centered care.