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Jones introduces bills to strengthen telemedicine amid COVID-19 crisis

U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Thursday announced that he and a bipartisan group of colleagues introduced legislation meant to bolster telemedicine in Alabama and across the country. 

The legislation directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to study telehealth programs and learn how they can be better used in future health emergencies.

“The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the benefits of telemedicine for our country’s patients, providers and health care systems so that folks can stay healthy and safe and receive the care they need from their homes. This bill will help us continue to build our telehealth infrastructure so we can ensure that patients have access to these services, both during this pandemic and beyond,” Jones said in a statement.

The legislation requires HHS to publish a recurring report every five years in which HHS is to:

  • conduct an inventory of telehealth initiatives in existence, including their capacity to handle increased volume during the response to a public health emergency;
  • identify methods to expand and interconnect regional health information networks and state and regional broadband networks;
  • evaluate ways to prepare for, monitor, respond rapidly to or manage the events of a public health emergency through the enhanced use of telehealth technologies;
  • promote greater coordination among existing federal interagency telehealth and health information technology initiatives; and
  • make recommendations related to updates on the use of telehealth in public health emergencies in Federal and State public health preparedness plans and any actions taken to implement such recommendations.

Jones also co-sponsored separate legislation with Sen. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, that would increase funding for remote monitoring for those with chronic health conditions. 

The Increasing Rural Health Access During COVID-19 Emergency Act  would make $50 million available for Virtual Health Pilot Program Grants to bolster remote monitoring technology. 

“This new program can give us another tool in our toolbox to expand health care to rural residents and those who have trouble accessing transportation,” Jones said in a separate release. “During this national pandemic, we need to continue to do all we can to help folks access the care they need safely from home.”

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Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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