Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Red Oak, is the lead sponsor on a bill that would ease some of the restrictions on telemedicine use to help veterans.
“Telehealth is one of the VA’s major transformational initiatives to achieve patient-centered affordable and convenient health care for our veterans. My legislation would build on these improvements for disabled or rural veterans by expanding the telehealth services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Ernst says.
She says the VETS Act would allow qualified health professionals to operate across state lines and conduct teleheatlh services, including mental health care treatment for veterans. “Under current law, the VA may only waive the state license requirement for telehealth services if both the patient and physician are located in a federally-owned facility. Additionally, the VA may only perform at-home tele-heatlh care when the patient and the physician are located in the same state,” Ernst says. She says it’s particularly important for veterans in rural areas.
“My legislation works to overcome rural health care challenges and provide easier access to health services for our disabled veterans, so they may lead more independent lives in their own homes and their local communities,” Ernst says. Iowa is a rural state, but Ernst is not sure how many veterans might need the service here. She says there are some 225,000 veterans in Iowa, but she does not have exact numbers on how many might benefit from this change.
The Veterans Administration health system has had a variety of issues and Ernst says there’s is still a lot to be done to solve them. “I would love to say that I’ve seen great improvement in the VA, but I can’t say that right now,” according to Ernst. Ernst hopes this bill will pass and help with some of the issues with getting the proper care in a timely manner.
“I think we are blessed in the midwest to have some great care — however across the nation if you look at the situation with the VA’s– we are still experiencing delays in treatment for our veterans. So, we still have a number of issues that need to be resolved,” Ernst says. “I am committed to continuing that fight for our veterans.” Ernst says the bill has bipartisan support along with lead cosponsor, Democrat Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.
Ernst says telehealth procedures reduced the number of days in a hospital for care by 54 percent and saves veterans on average $2,000 each year.