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Heeding Bipartisan Call from Shaheen & McSally, TRICARE to Broaden Coverage of Telehealth Services Amid COVID-19 Crisis

TRICARE’s Announcement Follows Bipartisan Call from Shaheen & McSally to Lift Restrictions on Coverage for Telehealth Services Which Will Also Aid the Delivery of Mental Health Care

Last Month, Heeding Shaheen’s Bipartisan Call, CMS Changed Guidelines to Cover Telephone-Based Telehealth Services in the Same Way as Video Telehealth Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) issued the following statements after TRICARE announced it would expand coverage for telehealth services amid the COVID-19 crisis. This announcement came after Shaheen and McSally called on the Defense Health Agency (DHA) last week to cover the full scope of telehealth services under TRICARE. The Senators argued that Medicare and Medicaid lifted restrictions due to the public health emergency and that DHA should do the same for TRICARE. New Hampshire medical centers that provide mental health services have reported difficulty billing TRICARE for telehealth appointments.

“This is the right call – I’m glad TRICARE heeded our concerns and rightly decided to expand coverage for telehealth services for military families at this critical time,” said Shaheen. “I appreciate that Medicare, Medicaid and now TRICARE have all responded to our bipartisan calls in Congress to provide flexible health care access during these tremendously challenging times, including audio-only forms of telehealth. This is especially important in the delivery of mental health care. This will allow military families to more easily check in with a doctor without unnecessary out-of-pocket expenses, which is especially important now that health advice and counseling is in such high demand and so necessary. I’ll continue to insist that federal agencies make adjustments to guidelines and policies to respond to this rapidly evolving health crisis.”

“During this coronavirus pandemic, access to telehealth is critical,” said McSally. “TRICARE finally heard our calls and made the right decision to eliminate the patient fees associated with telehealth care for our military families. Now, those covered under TRICARE can virtually attend appointments, including for mental health, from the safety of their own home. This will allow access to vital care for patients who are still required or choosing to stay at home due to age or vulnerability.”

Last month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ heeded Shaheen’s bipartisan call and updated guidelines to bring Medicare reimbursement for telephone-based health services in line with Medicare reimbursement for video telehealth. Telephone-based telehealth is vital for New Hampshire’s rural communities that do not have reliable broadband services to facilitate video telehealth.

Senators Shaheen and McSally have a history of working together to improve TRICARE coverage for service members and veterans. In January, in response to a bipartisan call from the Senators and following the introduction of their bipartisan legislation to address the issue, the Department of Defense agreed to expand TRICARE coverage to include 3D mammography – the most effective breast cancer screening option.