By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, October 8, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) announced in a statement that he was supporting the bipartisan legislation to improve health care access and affordability for disabled or rural veterans by expanding VA telehealth services.
The legislation is sponsored by US Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). The bipartisan Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act of 2015 (VETS Act), legislation is designed to improve health care access for disabled or rural veterans by expanding telehealth services provided by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Sen. Sessions is co-sponsoring the legislation along with Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), John Boozman (R-Arizona), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota), Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico).
Senator Ernst said, “The bipartisan Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act moves us one step closer to achieving more affordable, patient-centered health care that our veterans deserve by embracing telehealth services to offer physician care and health treatment beyond the walls of a VA facility. Telehealth care is an innovative and important means to meet the wide-ranging needs of veterans in Iowa and nationwide, including the invisible struggles of mental health care.”
Senator Horono said, “Our nation has a moral obligation to provide the best care for all veterans. This legislation would eliminate the added burden of traveling long distances, or even to different states, in order to see a doctor. The VETS Act will build on a VA telemedicine program that is proven to work and removes barriers to accessing care particularly for veterans in rural areas like Hawaii’s Neighbor Islands.”
As defined by the Department of Health and Human Services telehealth is, “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.”
Currently, the VA may only waive the state license requirement for telehealth services if both the patient and physician are located in a federally owned facility and the VA may only perform at-home telehealth care when the patient and physician are located in the same state.
The VETS Act would allow qualified VA health professionals to operate across state lines and conduct telehealth services, including mental health care treatment, for veterans without making the veterans travel miles away from home to a VA facility.
Telehealth is one of the VA’s major transformational initiatives, and the number of veterans utilizing telehealth services continues to climb. VA telehealth care grew by 18 percent among veterans in Fiscal Year 2014 and now turn more than 12 percent of veterans received elements of their care through telehealth services. According to the VA, 88 percent of veterans who utilized the VA’s telehealth services were satisfied with the care they received. Telehealth services are effective and affordable as veterans save on average $2,000 per year in health care related costs, including travel to a VA medical facility.
The VETS Act is endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the American Legion, Concerned Veterans for America, and the American Telemedicine Association.
The companion bill in the US House of Representatives was introduced by Congressmen Charles Rangel (D-New York) and Glen Thompson (R-Pennsylvania).
Alabama’s Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) has been one of the worst performing VA systems as far as getting care to veterans in a timely manner after it has been requested.
Senator Jeff Sessions is a former head of the Alabama Republican Party, former US Attorney, and former Alabama Attorney General.