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Mississippi Senate delegation backing bill to expand telehealth access

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Mississippi’s Senate delegation is backing a bill to expand access to telehealth services beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bipartisan ‘Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2021’ would expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make permanent COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities, improve health outcomes, and make it easier for patients to safely connect with their doctors. Among other outcomes, the bill aims to: 

  • Permanently remove all geographic restrictions on telehealth services and expand originating sites to include the home and other sites;
  • Allow health centers and rural health clinics to provide telehealth services, a provision currently in place temporarily due to the pandemic;
  • Provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the permanent authority to waive telehealth restrictions, a provision currently in place temporarily due to the pandemic;
  • Allow for the waiver of telehealth restrictions during public health emergencies; and
  • Require a study to learn more about how telehealth has been used during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“Telehealth is enabling more people to receive the care they need, leading to improved outcomes and lower costs,” Senator Roger Wicker said. “This bipartisan legislation would build on the success of telehealth in states like Mississippi to eliminate existing barriers and expand access to lifesaving care for more Americans.”

“The past year has highlighted the value of telehealth, and those benefits will increase with rapidly advancing technology,” Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith said.  “This legislation would help ensure Mississippians and Americans can continue to rely on telehealth services for easier access to affordable, quality care, even after the pandemic ends.”

The senators explained that after select provisions of the CONNECT Act were implanted in 2020, telehealth has seen a sharp rise in use since the start of the national health emergency.  Data shows that the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased by about 13,000 percent in just a month and a half during the pandemic.

The CONNECT for Health Act was first introduced in 2016 and is considered the most comprehensive legislation on telehealth in Congress. Since 2016, several provisions of the bill were enacted into law or adopted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, including provisions to remove restrictions on telehealth services for mental health, stroke care, and home dialysis.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.).

A bill to extend telehealth services past the pandemic at the state level died during the recently completed Mississippi Legislative Session.

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