House bill seeks active-duty telehealth

Technology is 'increasingly important to the full range of options we should be offering.'
By Eric Wicklund
11:10 AM

Continuing the recent spate of mHealth activity in the nation's capital, a pair of California Congressmen have submitted a bill that would expand telehealth coverage to active-duty service members, their dependents, retirees and veterans.

The 21st Century Care for Military & Veterans Act (H.R. 3507) was submitted on November 15 by U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Scott Peters (D-Calif.). Co-sponsored by Reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and endorsed by the American Telemedicine Association, the bill would establish and expand current reimbursement policies for telehealth coverage under the Veterans' Administration and The Defense Department's TRICARE.

[See also: Telehealth extends care to veterans closer to home]

The VA, which launched telehealth services in 2003, has seen a 40 percent reduction in bed days and 87 percent reduction of annual per-patient costs when compared to home-based care programs, according to VA studies.

“Oftentimes telehealth provides the best care available, and as a wounded combat Vietnam veteran I understand that our service members, veterans and their families have earned and deserve the best,” Thompson said in a press release. “This bill will make sure our men and women of the Armed Forces and their families can get the highest quality care in a timely manner no matter where they live or how far away they are from the doctor they need to see. It’s the right thing to do for those who have sacrificed so much for us."

“As we look for ways to provide the best-quality care for our service members and veterans, telehealth technologies are increasingly important to the full range of options we should be offering,” Peters added in the release. “We’ve already seen that these technologies create a more responsive and more efficient healthcare system that provide for better care and lower costs. That’s the type of common sense approach that can make a real difference in military and veterans communities … across the country.”

Speaking at last year's Partners HealthCare Connected Health Symposium in Boston, Adam Darkins, MD, the VA's chief consultant for telehealth services, anticipated that some 825,000 veterans would be served through telehealth by the end of 2013.

[See also: Telehealth becomes multi-dimensional]

"This is about a very different kind of healthcare," he said at the time. "This is about connecting with people in a different way."

And Congress has been interested in telehealth as well. Just last month, Thompson, Welch and Harper joined U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in prosing the Telehealth Enhancement Act (H.R. 3306), which calls for the adoption of payment innovations to improve telehealth coverage. And in September, Nunes joined U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) in sponsoring the TELEmedicine for MEDicare (TELE-MED) Act (H.R. 3077), which would enable healthcare providers to treat Medicare patients in other states with telemedicine tools and services but without needing a different license for each state.