U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) led a bipartisan group of 30 senators in calling for the expansion of access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic to be made permanent. Provisions from the Schatz-authored CONNECT for Health Act that have allowed Medicare beneficiaries in all areas of the country, and in their homes, to utilize telehealth services, as well as more types of health care providers to provide telehealth, were included in previous COVID-19 legislation but will expire following the pandemic unless congressional leaders act now to make those measures permanent.
“Americans have benefited significantly from this expansion of telehealth and have come to rely on its availability,” the senators wrote in a letter to Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Congress should expand access to telehealth services on a permanent basis so that telehealth remains an option for all Medicare beneficiaries both now and after the pandemic. Doing so would assure patients that their care will not be interrupted when the pandemic ends. It would also provide certainty to health care providers that the costs to prepare for and use telehealth would be a sound long-term investment.”
In their letter, the senators highlight the growing use and benefits of telehealth during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as patients seek to avoid traveling to hospitals and other providers and instead receive care at home. New data shows that the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased by 11,718 percent in just a month and a half during the pandemic.
The bipartisan and bicameral Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, led by Senator Schatz, was first introduced in 2016. The bill, which is cosponsored by 36 senators, is considered the most comprehensive telehealth legislation in Congress.
In addition to Schatz and Wicker, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Chris Coons (D-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.).
The full text of the letter is below and available here.