Shaheen, Bipartisan Group of Senators Call on VA Secretary Wilkie to Provide Coverage for Telehealth Services for Veterans’ Families During the Pandemic

September 09, 2020

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined a bipartisan group of Senators to call on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie to provide coverage of comprehensive telehealth services, including voice communication, for beneficiaries of the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA).

Currently, federal regulations do not allow CHAMPVA to cover health care services that are delivered through audio-only conferencing, telephone calls and text messaging.

“Our constituents, including those who reside in rural areas where internet access may be limited, need access to telehealth services that involve voice communication, especially during a public health emergency,” wrote the Senators in their letter. “We appreciate the steps VA has taken in recent years to make telehealth more accessible to veterans and their families, but in order for this access to be meaningful, it must reach constituents through the platforms that work best for them and their providers. As such, we urge VA to take the necessary steps to immediately ensure CHAMPVA beneficiaries are able to access health services through voice communication platforms.”

The letter was led by Senator Baldwin (D-WI) and also signed by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jon Tester (D-MT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Angus King (I-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Michael Rounds (R-SD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

The full letter is available here.

Telephone-based telehealth is vital for New Hampshire’s rural communities that do not have reliable broadband services to facilitate video telehealth. Earlier this year, the Defense Health Agency announced that it would expand TRICARE coverage for telehealth services following Shaheen’s bipartisan efforts with Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ). In April, 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.

Senator Shaheen has fought tirelessly in support of veterans and their families to ensure they have the resources and services they need during the COVID-19 crisis. Senator Shaheen previously called on VA Secretary Wilkie to strengthen New Hampshire veterans’ access to telehealth as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Senator Shaheen helped negotiate and worked to pass into law included $2.15 billion in funding to the VA to enhance its ability to provide telehealth services to veterans. In May, Shaheen introduced legislation to assist health care providers delivering telehealth services and ensure patients can continue to access health care from the safety of their homes. Shaheen also participated in bipartisan calls for a permanent expansion of telehealth services that Congress included in the CARES Act. The bipartisan legislation included a provision to expand access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries in New Hampshire and across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.