Schatz proposes Telehealth expansion
WASHINGTON - “The challenge with telehealth is that our laws are outdated,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the lead sponsor behind the proposal. “They were written long before the first iPhone was envisioned.
Wednesday, Schatz and a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced they are revising the “Connect for Health Act.” Their plan aims to expand telehealth coverage, reduce costs, and improve quality largely by eliminating restrictions on where patients can receive emergency and mental health care. This could be especially beneficial for Medicare, Schatz said.
Lawmakers believe the will help Americans living in rural areas where getting to a doctor is already a challenge.
“On Hawaii Island, on the Big Island, there is a shortage of mental health professionals,” he explained. “Psychologists from Honolulu routinely have to fly in to close the gap.”
“Rural communities and some suburban communities do not have specialty services in those communities,” said Karen Rheuban, director ofthe co-founder and director of the Karen S. Rheuban Center for Telehealth at the University of Virginia.
But doing that is easier said than done. A survey this summer by J.D. Power found nearly 75 percent of Americans using telehealth didn’t know it was an option, or simply don’t have internet access to use it.
Although it’s tough to quantify how much money Schatz’s proposal would save, Rheuban said it will save miles. Many, many miles.
“We have saved Virginians more than 20 million miles of driving for access to health care through our telemedicine program,” she explained of her program, which is based in Charlottesville, Va.
Similar legislation introduced in 2017 would have saved Medicare and Medicaid over $200 million in a five-year period, according to the Congressional Budget Office.