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Bill Proposed to Expand Telehealth to Medicare Recipients

November 2, 2019, 4:22 PM HST
* Updated November 2, 3:20 PM
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The use of telehealth services in Hawai‘i is on the rise and a new bill proposes to expand these services to Medicare recipients at Native Hawaiian health care facilities.

The Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2019, makes it easier for patients to connect with doctors while helping cut costs for patients and providers.

The legislation was introduced by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), John Thune (R-South Dakota), Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi).

“Telehealth is the future of health care,” said Sen. Schatz. “The technology is advancing, more providers and patients are relying on it, and we have broad bipartisan support. This bill will help ensure that every American gets the care they need no matter where they live.”

The use of telehealth by health care providers in Hawai‘i rose from 2% in 2014 to more than 20% last year.

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Study results show telehealth improves care and patient satisfaction while reducing hospitalizations, according to a news release by Sen. Schatz’s office.

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“Lana‘i Community Health Center has developed one of the largest telehealth programs in Hawai‘i and the only one of which we know where a rural primary care provider has driven the development and provides the technological infrastructure to support the program,” said Dr. Joe Humphry, Medical Director and Director of Quality for the Lana‘i Community Health Center. “We have improved training for our providers and access to specialty care for our patients. Our success reflects our commitment to our patients; however, limitations include state and national regulations and health plan administrative rules. National initiatives are essential to define payment and reduce administrative burdens.”

In addition to providing Medicare beneficiaries with telehealth services at all Native Hawaiian health care facilities, the CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 would require a study to expand telehealth services to more people at home. The act would also:

  • Provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the authority to waive telehealth restrictions when necessary;
  • Remove geographic and originating site restrictions for services like mental health and emergency medical care;
  • Allow rural health clinics and other community-based health care centers to provide telehealth services.

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