U.S. SENATE – U.S. Senators Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Doug Jones (D-AL) on Thursday introduced bipartisan legislation to expand patient access to health care across rural America and on tribal lands through greater investment in telehealth services like doctors’ appointments over Skype and text alerts for medication reminders.

“Provider shortages, especially among specialists who care for Americans living with chronic conditions, are painfully evident in rural America and on tribal lands, where the prevalence of chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension is often higher than the rest of the country,” McSally said. “Bolstering access to telehealth will help remedy these shortages by providing Arizona’s vulnerable populations with increased access to critical health services in the comfort of their own homes. For example, my legislation would provide funding for technology that allows health providers to remotely monitor and detect dangerous fluctuations in a diabetic patient’s blood sugar levels, which could prevent more serious medical complications. This technology is all the more important as we continue our efforts to combat the coronavirus. Relief to rural communities in Arizona is crucial.”

Jones said: “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. During this national pandemic, we need to continue to do all we can to help folks access the care they need safely from home.”

Ann Mond Johnson, CEO, American Telemedicine Association (ATA) said: “Remote patient monitoring and digital health technologies have been used effectively in care delivery for many years, and have played a critical role in scaling virtual care nationally in response to COVID-19. Over the past few months, telehealth technologies have helped providers keep vulnerable patients out of hospitals and clinics where they were at an increased risk of exposure to the virus. ATA commends Sen. McSally and Sen. Jones for their continued leadership and effort to extend access to underserved communities, address existing health disparities, and ensure technology can be deployed to reach vulnerable patients.”

Read the bill text HERE.

Background:

  • The Increasing Rural Health Access During the COVID–19 Public Health Emergency Act of 2020 would make $50 million available for Virtual Health Pilot Program Grants administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to facilitate utilization of remote patient monitoring technology to maintain or expand access to health care services for individuals during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.
  • The grants will be made available to providers and facilities that serve their communities to enhance access to community-based health care services in rural areas including:
    • Rural health clinics, 
    • Community health centers, 
    • Community behavioral health centers,
    • Long- term care facilities
    • Rural hospitals
  • The funds can be used to use remote patient monitoring tools to
    • Treat individuals with chronic conditions
    • Improve and expand the training of health care providers using remote patient monitoring technology
    • Minimize provider challenges in treating individuals during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE.)

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