Telehealth gets a boost from McCain VA bill
Monday, December 18, 2017
A bill introduced by two Republican senators earlier this month designed to modernize the Department of Veterans Affairs includes a provision that would allow physicians to practice telehealth across state lines without restrictions.
Introduced by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the Veterans Community Care and Access Act of 2017 is designed to "consolidate community care authorities into a single program, implement data-driven access and quality standards, improve walk-in care and ensure safe prescribing practices, among a slew of other requirements."
The bill would allow licensed VA physicians to practice telemedicine in any state regardless of where they are located. The bill also requires VA facilities to share medical records with nondepartment providers "for the purpose of delivering care and enhancing the VA's ability to recover funds from other responsible third parties."
McCain said the bill would provide "long overdue, critical reforms" that would help "transform the VA into a 21st-century healthcare system." VA Secretary David Shulkin, M.D., emphasized the need to integrate telehealth into the VA system, particularly as a way to improve access to mental health services and reduce the suicide rates among veterans.
Like the VA's proposed rule, the Senate bill would override state licensing restrictions and prohibit states from taking action against providers for practicing telehealth across state lines. Providers and health IT groups have expressed support for the rule, although the Medical Board of California said that it would "undermine California's ability to protect healthcare consumers."
Should this bill pass, it would be a major win for telehealth supporters. In fact, given the attention it has garnered, the bill is probably already considered a win for moving the telehealth agenda forward, especially given the potential elimination of penalties for providing care across state lines.
"In the wake of the scandal in care at VA hospitals in Phoenix and around the country, we vowed to guarantee our veterans timely access to quality treatment," McCain said in a statement. "The Veterans Choice Program was the first step in delivering on that promise, but much more needs to be done to provide all veterans a choice in when and where they receive care. Our bill would strengthen and improve the core elements of Choice by consolidating and streamlining the VA’s community care program."
According to McCain's statement, the legislation would "ensure that veterans are the primary decision-makers concerning when and where they receive care. In addition, the bill would require the VA to use objective data on healthcare demand to set standards for access and quality, and to identify and bridge gaps in veterans' care — whether in VA or community facilities.
"Importantly, the bill would ensure the VA promptly pays community providers, offers access to walk-in clinics, offers telemedicine, increases graduate medical education and residency positions for employees, and improves its collaboration with community providers and other federal agencies."
This legislation is supported by the American Legion, AMVETS and Concerned Veterans for America.
"On behalf of the 2 million members of the American Legion, I write to support your bill," said American Legion national commander Denise H. Rohan. "The bill, as currently written, would modify the already existing Choice program, providing veterans with the 21st-century medical system they rightfully deserve."
Concerned Veterans for America Executive Director Dan Caldwell echoed those sentiments.
"Despite tens of billions of dollars in budget increases for the VA over the past three years, there are still far too many veterans waiting long periods of time for critical appointments and still too frequent reports of veterans suffering as the result of substandard care at the VA," Caldwell said.
"The legislation would give veterans more options in their healthcare and change how it is delivered. Additionally, the legislation creates a plan to combine multiple outside care programs at the VA that will reduce bureaucracy and streamline reimbursements to community providers."
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