This morning, President Donald Trump was joined by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Dr. David J. Shulkin for a joint announcement of the expansion of VA telehealth services. Following opening remarks from President Trump outlining the seamles care between the VA and the Department of Defense, it was announced that the VA is expanding the ability of veterans to connect with their VA healthcare team through telehealth by using a mobile application on the veterans’ own phone or home computer. This is expected to significantly expand access to care especially in the area of mental health and suicide prevention services. Both President Trump and Secretary Shulkin expressed the large impact this is expected to have in rural areas, where veterans frequently experience access to care issues.

Regulations Forthcoming to Allow for the Expanded Anywhere to Anywhere VA Healthcare Program

President Trump and VA Secretary Shulkin explore the VA’s telehealth capabilities with a live demonstration.

To implement this Anywhere to Anywhere VA Healthcare program, the VA will release regulations that will remove the existing regulations which have prevented the VA from expanding the current VA telehealth program. The VA already has the largest telehealth program in the country. In 2016 alone, 700,000 veterans received telehealth services through the VA across 50 different specialties. Now, with this expansion, through the VA Video Connect, which allows VA providers to use mobile devices to connect with vets on their mobile devices and home computers, VA providers anywhere in the country can provide telehealth services to veterans anywhere in the country. This enables VA providers in cities where there are a lot of doctors to be able to treat veterans in rural areas. This announcement is paired with the release of a mobile application, that you can find at mobile.va.gov/appstore, which will allow veterans to schedule, change, and cancel appointments with VA providers on their smartphones. Over 300 VA providers across 67 VA clinics have already booked more than 4,000 appointments with veterans on their phones. The mobile application is now rolling out nationally to speed up access to care for veterans.

Advocates Have Been Calling for Expanded Telehealth Services Through Letters to the FCC, Proposed Legislation, and Comments to CMS

This announcement comes on the heels of a flurry of federal activity around telehealth. In Congress, the Congressional Budget Office scored the Senate Finance Committee’s chronic care bill (S. 870) on Tuesday and found that Medicare’s complex system of payment for both healthcare services and telehealth services makes it difficult to estimate any projected savings through the expansion of telehealth services for Medicare. Other groups on the Hill have been writing the Federal Communications Commission to repurpose television airwaves to broadcast high-speed internet in order to provide additional ‘lanes’ for telehealth expansions, such as the CONNECT for Health Act (H.R. 2556). Recently filed legislation by Representatives Doris Matsui and Bill Johnson, H.R. 3482, gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to waive Medicare restrictions on what telemedicine it covers if the service improves quality of care or reduces costs. Despite all of this activity, telehealth advocates have been frustrated by a lack of progress related to expanding telehealth services.

President Trump and VA Secretary Shulkin explore the Doctor’s Bag of the Future.

This is in stark contrast to the VA announcements and recent activity that have enabled the VA to expand healthcare access and bring innovative technologies into their workflow. This build up within the VA was accomplished through their Accountability Bill, by the ongoing replacement of their electronic health record (moving away from VistA and adopting a Cerner system like the MHS Genesis).

If you or your company are interested in Medicare telehealth issues or exploring opportunities available through the VA’s expansion of telehealth services announced, contact us at jgeorgi@appliedpolicy.com or call us at 202-558-5272.

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