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Shaheen Joins Bipartisan Group of Senators to Reintroduce Legislation to Expand Access to Telehealth Services

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined a bipartisan group of 65 senators to introduce the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act. This legislation will expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make permanent COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities, improve health outcomes and make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors. 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth services emerged as important resources for Granite State patients and providers, but was not always accessible in some rural communities,” said Senator Shaheen. “Location should never be an obstacle to receiving comprehensive health care and treatments. That’s why I’m glad to support the CONNECT for Health Act, as it is a crucial step towards keeping care accessible for all Americans.”  

Three provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act were signed into law in 2020. As a result, there was a sharp rise in use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic as patients avoided traveling to hospitals and other health care settings and instead chose to receive care at home. Data shows that telehealth provides essential access to care with nearly a quarter of Americans accessing telehealth in the past month.

The CONNECT for Health Act was first introduced in 2016 and is considered the most comprehensive legislation on telehealth in Congress. Since 2016, several provisions of the bill were enacted into law or adopted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, including provisions to remove restrictions on telehealth services for mental health, stroke care and home dialysis.

The updated version of the CONNECT for Health Act builds on that progress and includes new and revised provisions that will help more people access telehealth services.

Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Permanently remove all geographic restrictions on telehealth services and expand originating sites to include the home and other sites;
  • Permanently allow health centers and rural health clinics to provide telehealth services;
  • Allow more eligible health care professionals to utilize telehealth services;
  • Remove unnecessary in-person visit requirements for telemental health services;
  • Allow for the waiver of telehealth restrictions during public health emergencies; and
  • Require more published data to learn more about how telehealth is being used, impacts of quality of care and how it can be improved to support patients and health care providers.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), David Schweikert (R-AZ) and Bill Johnson (R-OH).

A summary of the bill and the full list of endorsing organizations can be found here.

The full text of the bill can be found here.

During the pandemic, Shaheen spearheaded efforts to strengthen and expand access to telehealth in New Hampshire and across the country. In April 2020, Shaheen, Manchin and Moran led a bipartisan group of Senators in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to increase telephone-based, or audio-only, telehealth reimbursements to equal other audio-visual telehealth reimbursements. The next month, CMS heeded Shaheen’s call and updated guidelines to bring Medicare reimbursement for telephone-based health services in line with Medicare reimbursement for video telehealth. Shaheen also introduced legislation that would provide Medicare reimbursement for audio and video telehealth services furnished by home health agencies during the COVID-19 public health crisis and future public health emergencies. Recently, Shaheen reintroduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to increase access to Prescription Digital Therapeutics (PDTs).