Wicker, Schatz, Hyde-Smith Reintroduce Legislation to Expand Telehealth Access

April 29, 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., along with 47 other senators today reintroduced the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2021. The bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act would expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make permanent COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities, improve health outcomes, and make it easier for patients to safely connect with their doctors.

“Telehealth is enabling more people to receive the care they need, leading to improved outcomes and lower costs,” Wicker said. “This bipartisan legislation would build on the success of telehealth in states like Mississippi to eliminate existing barriers and expand access to lifesaving care for more Americans.”

“The last year has shown us that telehealth works, it’s popular, and it’s here to stay,” said Schatz. “Our comprehensive bill makes it easier for more people to safely get the care they need no matter where they live.”

“The past year has highlighted the value of telehealth, and those benefits will increase with rapidly advancing technology,” said Hyde-Smith.  “This legislation would help ensure Mississippians and Americans can continue to rely on telehealth services for easier access to affordable, quality care, even after the pandemic ends."

Three provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act were included in COVID-19 relief legislation enacted in 2020 to expand access to telehealth during the pandemic. As a result, telehealth has seen a sharp rise in use since the start of the national health emergency as patients seek care at home to avoid traveling to hospitals and other health care settings. Data shows that the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased by about 13,000 percent in just a month and a half during the pandemic.

The CONNECT for Health Act was first introduced in 2016 and is considered the most comprehensive legislation on telehealth in Congress. Since 2016, several provisions of the bill were enacted into law or adopted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, including provisions to remove restrictions on telehealth services for mental health, stroke care, and home dialysis. 

The updated version of the CONNECT for Health Act builds on that progress and includes new and revised provisions that will help more people access telehealth services. Specifically, the legislation will:

  • Permanently remove all geographic restrictions on telehealth services and expand originating sites to include the home and other sites;
  • Allow health centers and rural health clinics to provide telehealth services, a provision currently in place temporarily due to the pandemic;
  • Provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the permanent authority to waive telehealth restrictions, a provision currently in place temporarily due to the pandemic;
  • Allow for the waiver of telehealth restrictions during public health emergencies; and
  • Require a study to learn more about how telehealth has been used during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson, D-Calif., Peter Welch, D-Vt., David Schweikert, R-Ariz., Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, and Doris Matsui, D-Calif.

The CONNECT for Health Act has the support of more than 130 organizations including AARP, America’s Essential Hospitals, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Hospital Association, American Heart Association, American Medical Association, American Medical Group Association, American Nurses Association, American Telemedicine Association, Children’s National Hospital, eHealth Initiative, Federation of American Hospitals, Health Innovation Alliance, HIMSS, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Association of Rural Health Clinics, National Rural Health Association, Personal Connected Health Alliance, and Teladoc Health.