House passes VETS Act that would ease telehealth licensing restrictions at the VA

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The VETS Act sailed through the House on Tuesday, and backers urged the Senate to push the bill to the president's desk.

The House of Representatives voted to pass the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act of 2017 on Tuesday that would allow physicians within the VA health system to practice telehealth across state lines.

The legislation mirrors a proposed rule from the Department of Veterans Affairs that received broad support from provider and health IT organizations during a comment period that ended last week.

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VA credentialing regulations allow providers that are licensed in good standing in one state to see patients in person in any other state, but “the same reciprocity is not afforded to the practice of telehealth,” the bill's co-sponsor Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Penn., said on the House floor before the vote.

“While the VA has made major strides, and is a leader in advancing telehealth access, outdated barriers limit its growth,” he said. Thompson noted that in 2016, 12% of veterans utilized telehealth services with an 88% satisfaction rate. Nearly half lived in rural parts of the country.

In addition to allowing VA physicians to practice telehealth across the country, the bill would require the VA to submit a report on the effectiveness of telemedicine at the VA.

“The passage of our bill in the House today marks a major step toward our goal of expanding the VA’s ability to provide better, more accessible care to our veterans – including right in their own homes,” co-sponsor Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., said in a statement after the bill’s passage. “New technologies provide us with better ways to provide care for veterans and tailor it to their unique needs, and we need to capitalize on that innovation.”

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The VETS Act is backed by Health IT Now as well as several behavioral health organizations, including the American Psychological Association. Following the bill's passage, Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White urged the Senate to “get this bill to the president’s desk without delay.”

Whether it will move through the Senate remains to be seen. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, introduced the same bill in the Senate in April. Their bill was referred to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee but hasn't made any progress since.

On Tuesday, Ernst tweeted that she was “thrilled” the VETS Act had passed the House.