Senate bill would allow VA doctors to practice telehealth across state lines

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa, pictured) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and eight co-sponsors, have introduced a bill that would allow veterans greater access to telehealth services by allowing providers to practice across state lines.

The Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act of 2015 (VETS Act) mirrors a House bill introduced in May by Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.).

Current law allows the Veterans Administration to waive state licensure requirements only if both the patient and physician are physically at a VA facility. Home telehealth services require both physician and patient to be located in the same state. These barriers mean veterans have to travel great distances to a VA facility to receive telehealth services, according to an announcement from Ernst.

The VETS Act would allow VA healthcare professionals to practice across state lines and conduct telehealth services, including mental healthcare treatment, with patients in their own homes.

Another telehealth bill, introduced in the House in July, would expand the geographic reach and covered telehealth services for Medicare patients.

In 2014, the VA provided remote care to more than 690,000 veterans, 55 percent of whom lived in remote regions. In addition, the services helped parents of a VA patient who was seriously injured in a stateside motor vehicle accident collaborate with a care team to make adjustments as needed to his home rehabilitation plan, according to a recent article published at Telemedicine and e-Health.

In a study published in January, VA researchers found improved outcomes for patients receiving care coordination at home via telehealth. However, an audit by the VA's Office of Inspector General found that the agency missed opportunities to enroll patients in its home telehealth program.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- here's the bill

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