Joni Ernst says her telemedicine bill enables better access to care for veterans

In testimony before a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last week, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) called the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act of 2015 (VETS Act), which she introduced in October with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), "straightforward, commonsense."

Ernst (pictured) said the bill--which would allow providers to practice across state lines--will help veterans in rural areas, where they might not easily be able to get to a VA facility. In addition, she said, it also will "ensure policymakers have up-to-date information on the VA's telehealth program."

Currently the VA can only waive state licensure requirements if both the patient and physician are physically at a VA facility.

Ernst's bill has support from 12 lawmakers, as well as organizations including the American Legion, Concerned Veteran's for America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the American Telemedicine Association and Health IT Now, she said during the hearing. Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson said during the hearing that the bill "addresses a critical need" and "solves a problem in the most economical way."

In a statement released last week, Health IT Now said it "applauds" the lawmakers' commitment to advancing telemedicine. The organization noted how geography can restrict the use of telehealth for vets and said that "in a modern world of increased travel and technology utilization, healthcare should not be restricted by state borders."

The Senate bill mirrors one introduced in the House last spring. That legislation is being sponsored by Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and has 11 co-sponsors from both parties.

Telemedicine programs have proven successful in helping veterans. In one case study, published in Telemedicine and e-Health, researchers looked at data from the outcomes of veterans receiving care coordination home telehealth (CCHT) compared to non-CCHT care. Those using telemedicine showed improved health-related quality of life, which included 50 percent fewer hospitalizations, 11 percent fewer ER visits and hospital lengths of stay shortened by three days, FierceHealthIT previously reported. 

To learn more:
- here's the hearing video
- read text of Ernst's statements
- check out the Health IT Now statement

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