Legislation expands telehealth coverage for military, retired veterans

New legislation introduced in the House last week aims to improve access to telehealth services for active-duty military, retired veterans and their dependents by expanding reimbursement for such care.

The bill--the 21st Century Care for Military & Veterans Act (H.R. 3507)--which initially was co-sponsored by California Democratic Reps. Mike Thompson and Scott Peters, now also is sponsored by Reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and has earned an endorsement from the American Telemedicine Association.

ATA CEO Jonathan Linkous said in a statement that the bill "removes artificial barriers to care in the federal government."

"Parity for telehealth and interstate access are two important concepts to extend all federal healthcare programs," Linkous said. "We applaud this effort."

Thompson, who himself was wounded in combat while serving in Vietnam, called the legislation "the right thing to do" for veterans.

"Oftentimes, telehealth provides the best care available … this bill will make sure our men and women of the Armed Forces and their families can get the highest quality care in a timely manner, no matter where they live or how far away they are from the doctor they need to see," he said in a statement.

Peters added that the legislation was a "commonsense approach" to care delivery.

"[T]elehealth technologies are increasingly important to the full range of options we should be offering," he said. "We've already seen that these technologies create a more responsive and more efficient healthcare system that provide for better care and lower costs."

In March, the "Fostering Independence Through Technology Act"--a bill aimed at boosting telehealth use to reduce hospital readmissions for Medicare beneficiaries in rural and underserved areas--was reintroduced to Congress by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.). That legislation calls on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to develop pilot projects that will provide incentives for home health agencies that choose to use remote patient monitoring and communications technologies.

To learn more:
- here's the bill
- read Rep. Mike Thompson's announcement
- check out the ATA's announcement