Senate Passes VETS Act to Expand VA’s Telehealth Services

Jan. 4, 2018
The U.S. Senate Wednesday evening passed the Veterans in E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2017 (VETS Act), S. 925, bipartisan legislation that aims to expand telehealth services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The U.S. Senate Wednesday evening passed the Veterans in E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2017 (VETS Act), S. 925, bipartisan legislation that aims to expand telehealth services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI). A companion measure with slightly different technical language passed the House last year. 

The bill allows a licensed healthcare professional of the VA to practice his or her profession using telemedicine at any location in any state, regardless of where the professional or patient is located.

The Health IT Now coalition released a statement supporting the Senate’s passage of the VETS Act, and the organization also supported the House’s passage last year.

“The legislation, among Health IT Now's top legislative priorities for the 115th Congress, would remove artificial barriers to telehealth services for veterans by allowing VA telehealth providers to more easily treat patients across state lines,” Health IT Now stated.

"Health IT Now applauds the unanimous Senate passage of this critical legislation to propel VA health services into the 21st century and ensure our nation’s heroes have access to the care they need when they need it,” HITN executive director Joel White said in a statement. “We thank our champions in the Senate, Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), for their steadfast commitment to this solution and urge Congressional leaders to quickly reconcile the House and Senate-passed versions of this measure so that the VETS Act can be enacted without delay.” 

Currently, VA may only perform at-home telehealth services when the patient and provider are located in the same state. Such requirements prevent veterans from seeking treatment from a provider in another state that may be closer to their home. In some cases, veterans also must travel great lengths to a federal facility instead of receiving telehealth services by camera or phone, according to Senator Ernst, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

 But the VETS Act calls for the removal of this barrier by creating a licensure exemption to allow VA-credentialed healthcare professionals to work across state borders to perform telemedicine without having to obtain a new license in that state. What’s more, the act expands the definition of exempt healthcare professionals to include VA doctors, and removes the location requirement to allow for care regardless of where the healthcare professional or patient is located.

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