Posted in Policy

Senate passes bipartisan bill to expand VA telehealth services

Chris Nerney
Chris Nerney, Contributing Writer |
Senate passes bipartisan bill to expand VA telehealth services

Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare providers will be able to practice telemedicine across state lines under a bill passed Wednesday by the U.S. Senate.

The Veterans in E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2017 closely mirrors legislation passed in November 2017 by the House. Both bills are intended to enable the VA’s Anywhere to Anywhere telehealth program unveiled in August 2017 by VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, and President Donald Trump. Once reconciled, a final bill will be sent to the White House, where it is expected to be signed into law.

Shulkin, previously Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health for President Obama, was unanimously confirmed as VA secretary by the Senate in February 2017. Since assuming his post, he has made it a priority to improve health services to veterans by making it easier for them to access care and by reducing wait times.

For example, the VA released a tool in April 2017 designed to make wait times for patients transparent to veterans, thus increasing accountability for VA facilities around the country. Four months later, the VA released a mobile app that allows veterans to schedule and change appointments at VA facilities using their smartphones.

The telemedicine bill passed by the Senate was introduced by Sens. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, and Hawaii Democrat Mazie Horono.

“All of our veterans must have access to quality and timely care, including life-saving mental health treatment, regardless of where they live,” Ernst said in a statement. “The VETS Act would allow Iowa’s rural or disabled veterans to receive care from their own home by increasing telehealth and telemedicine services provided by the VA.”

The legislation also mandates the VA and Congress to provide oversight of the telehealth program by requiring the VA to measure the program’s effectiveness.