WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) joined 59 of his bipartisan colleagues, including Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), in reintroducing the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act. The bill expands Medicare coverage of telehealth services and makes permanent pandemic-era telehealth flexibilities.
“Iowans in rural parts of our state have consistently shared with me the challenges they face when trying to access medical care,” Grassley said. “During the pandemic, though, we witnessed the benefits of temporary telehealth policies for Americans across the country – especially in rural communities. Our bill appropriately updates laws that have been on the books for a long time: it removes barriers for patients and providers, embraces the growing availability of advanced technologies and empowers the capabilities of the medical community.”
The Fiscal Year 2023 spending package included select provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act, preserving enhanced telehealth protections through 2025. The upcoming expiration underscores the need to make these stopgap extensions permanent.
The CONNECT for Health Act of 2023 would:
- 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;
- Allow more eligible health care professionals to use telehealth services;
- Remove unnecessary in-person visit requirement for mental telehealth services;
- Allow for the waiver of telehealth restrictions during public health emergencies; and
- Require data collection about telehealth use, its impacts and suggested improvements.
This bill was first introduced in 2016 and is considered the most comprehensive legislation on telehealth in Congress. Since then, parts of it – like removing restrictions on mental telehealth services, stroke care and home dialysis – have become law or been adopted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
In 2020, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law three provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act. The result was a surge in telehealth use, as patients avoided traveling to hospitals and health clinics during the pandemic.As then-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley helped make mental telehealth services a permanent benefit under Medicare.
The CONNECT for Health Act of 2023 has garnered support from over 150 organizations and more than 60 senators. Resources below:
Grassley’s Work to Strengthen Rural Health Care and Telehealth Access:
- Grassley in March introduced the Healthy Moms and Babies Act to improve maternal care for moms and newborns, which includes using telehealth and community-based care initiatives to expand access to mental and substance use disorder care.
- Grassley led passage of the Rural Health Clinic Protection Act, which ensures rural health clinics receive appropriate reimbursements. The bill corrected a technical error that unintentionally failed to grandfather in rural health clinics established in 2020 into a new, comprehensive payment system.
- After listening to rural hospital personnel about their concerns regarding the Rural Emergency Hospital Program, Grassley followed up with CMS.
- Reliable internet is paramount for telehealth service delivery; Grassley secured financing for broadband in the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.