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Cochran, Wicker, Harper act to enhance Teleheath services broaden patient access & care

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Representative Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) today announced the introduction of bipartisan legislation that seeks to broaden access to telehealth services under Medicare, make it easier for patients to connect with their providers, and cut health care costs.

The Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act is intended to broaden the availability and affordability of telehealth services.  Mississippi is a national leader in the implementation of telehealth technologies.  According to studies, telehealth and remote patient monitoring are shown to improve care and reduce hospitalizations, especially in rural and underserved areas.

“I am proud that Mississippi is a national leader in telehealth.  We have improved access, cut costs and increased health care for patients in all corners of our state.  These achievements are possible because of our statewide telehealth reimbursement laws.  The legislation we are introducing will apply the lessons we’ve learned in Mississippi to the entire nation to improve patient access to health care providers and to save taxpayer dollars,” Cochran said.

“Mississippi has long been on the cutting edge of health-care technologies,” Wicker said. “Connecting people with medical professionals through telehealth and remote patient monitoring provides quality and timely care, helps seniors manage their health, and delivers cost savings. This bill seeks to replicate the success that we have made in Mississippi using this technology for patients across the country.”

Along with Cochran and Wicker, the CONNECT for Health Act was developed and sponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.).  Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives with Harper as an original cosponsor.

“I applaud the bicameral and bipartisan work being done in both chambers of Congress to craft legislation that will help expand the use of telehealth technologies to better serve patients and save taxpayer dollars,” said Harper.  “Telehealth and Remote Patient Monitoring are incredibly promising technologies, but until we give providers the ability to transition and meet the goals set forth in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, Medicare patients will continue to struggle to take part in these advancements. This legislation will promote cost savings and will increase the quality of care in the Medicare program.”

The CONNECT for Health Act would increase telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) services in community health centers and rural health clinics, and make telehealth and RPM basic benefits in the Medicare Advantage program.  The bill would also expand the use of RPM for certain patients with chronic conditions.

In addition, the CONNECT for Health Act would create a program to help health care providers meet the goals of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act and the Merit-based Incentive Payment System through the use of telehealth programs.

For Mississippi, the bill could help the state increase its significant gains in telehealth services, primarily through the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) Center for Telehealth.  Overall, the UMMC Center for Telehealth has a total of 209 telehealth sites of service in 62 of Mississippi’s 82 counties. The center has completed more than half a million telehealth consults since the program began in 2003.

The center also runs a first-of-its-kind Diabetes Telehealth Network in Sunflower County, operates a telehealth network with 15 rural Mississippi hospitals focusing on emergency medicine, and connects with portable medical carts in rural hospitals and clinics to allow medical center specialists to care for patients.  The UMMC program additionally maintains telehealth service connections between the University of Southern Mississippi’s campuses in Hattiesburg and Long Beach.

The CONNECT for Health Act is supported by the UMMC Center for Telehealth, the American Telemedicine Association, the American Medical Association and numerous other medical and health care advocacy organizations.

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