Ernst, Hirono Introduce VETS Act

Bipartisan legislation to improve health care access and affordability for disabled or rural veterans by expanding VA telehealth services

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), led eight co-sponsors, in introducing the bipartisan Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act of 2015 (VETS Act), legislation to improve health care access for disabled or rural veterans by expanding telehealth services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

As defined by the Department of Health and Human Services telehealth is, “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.

Under current law, the VA may only waive the state license requirement for telehealth services if both the patient and physician are located in a federally owned facility. In addition, the VA may only perform at-home telehealth care when the patient and physician are located in the same state. These barriers are a deterrent for disabled or rural veterans who are seeking treatment from a physician in another state, in some cases forcing veterans to travel great lengths to a federal facility before receiving telehealth services by camera or phone.

The VETS Act would address these deficiencies by allowing qualified VA health professionals to operate across state lines and conduct telehealth services, including mental health care treatment, for veterans from the comfort and privacy of their own homes.

Telehealth is one of the VA’s major transformational initiatives, and the number of veterans utilizing telehealth services continues to climb. In fact, VA telehealth care grew by 18 percent among veterans in Fiscal Year 2014 and in turn more than 12 percent of veterans received elements of their care through telehealth services. According to the VA, 88 percent of veterans who utilized the VA’s telehealth services were satisfied with the care they received. Telehealth services are effective and affordable as veterans save on average $2,000 per year in health care related costs, including travel to a VA medical facility.

“The bipartisan Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act moves us one step closer to achieving more affordable, patient-centered health care that our veterans deserve by embracing telehealth services to offer physician care and health treatment beyond the walls of a VA facility,” said Senator Ernst. “Telehealth care is an innovative and important means to meet the wide-ranging needs of veterans in Iowa and nationwide, including the invisible struggles of mental health care.”

“Our nation has a moral obligation to provide the best care for all veterans,” said Senator Hirono. “This legislation would eliminate the added burden of traveling long distances, or even to different states, in order to see a doctor. The VETS Act will build on a VA telemedicine program that is proven to work and removes barriers to accessing care particularly for veterans in rural areas like Hawaii’s Neighbor Islands.”

Additional cosponsors to the bipartisan VETS Act include: Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), John Boozman (R-AR), John Cornyn (R-TX), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Tom Udall (D-NM).

The VETS Act is widely endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the American Legion, Concerned Veterans for America, and the American Telemedicine Association.

The companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives was introduced by Congressmen Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Glen Thompson (R-PA).

Click here to read the full text of the VETS Act.

VETS Act:

  • Allows VA health professionals to practice telemedicine across state lines if they are qualified and practice within the scope of their authorized federal duties.
  • Ensures the VA and Congress provide oversight of the VA’s telehealth program by requiring the VA to measure program effectiveness.

Benefits of VA Telehealth Services in Fiscal Year 2014:

  • Provided veterans telehealth care from more than 150 VA Medical Centers and over 750 Community Based Outpatient Clinics.
  • More than 12 percent of veterans received elements of their care through telehealth services.
  • More than 717,000 veterans participated in over 2.1 million telehealth care interactions.
  • 45 percent of veterans who used telehealth services lived in rural areas.
  • Reduced hospital bed days of care by 54 percent.
  • Reduced hospital admissions by 32 percent.
  • VA telehealth care grew by 18 percent among veterans in Fiscal Year 2014.
  • Patient satisfaction for clinical video telehealth averaged 94 percent.
  • Patient satisfaction for overall home telehealth services averaged 88 percent.
  • Home telehealth services save veterans on average $2,000 per year.

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