Senators Introduce Telehealth Bill for Underserved Areas

Laptop and StethoscopeTwo U.S. Senators, Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), have introduced a bill that would aim to improve healthcare in underserved, rural areas through the expanded use of telehealth.

Called the Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2014, the bill would grant Medicare beneficiaries in those areas more opportunities to utilize telehealth. It would wave current statutory Medicare restrictions on telehealth services, adjust Medicare home health payments, and extend coverage to all critical access and sole-community hospitals regardless of metropolitan status.

The bill was referred to the Committee on Finance. It is a companion bill to a House bill authored by Representative Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) last year.

“This bill would give Mississippi’s innovative health-care providers, like UMMC, the necessary tools for telehealth technology, improving the ways they serve their patients,” Sen. Wicker said in a statement. “Telehealth cuts down travel time and increases access to specialists for residents in many rural areas who do not live near these essential health-care resources.”

The bill was met with praise by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), whcih said it was instrumental in demonstrating widespread congressional support and in prompting the Congressional Budget Office to provide a budget estimate.

“We are proud of the hard work and progress achieved by the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and other ATA members from the state of Mississippi, which has resulted in their state serving as a model for telehealth policy at both the state and federal levels,” Jonathan Linkous, CEO of ATA, said in a statement. “We hope all of our members are energized to take advantage of opportunities with their Congressional lawmakers to join the effort in their states.”

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