Capito, colleagues call on VA Secretary to provide Veterans coverage for Telehealth Services amid COVID-19 pandemic


WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) joined a bipartisan group of senators to call on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie to provide coverage of comprehensive telehealth services, including voice communication, for beneficiaries of the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA).

 

Currently, federal regulations do not allow CHAMPVA to cover health care services that are delivered through audio-only conferencing, telephone calls, and text messaging.

 

“Our constituents, including those who reside in rural areas where internet access may be limited, need access to telehealth services that involve voice communication, especially during a public health emergency,” wrote the senators in their letter. “We appreciate the steps VA has taken in recent years to make telehealth more accessible to veterans and their families, but in order for this access to be meaningful, it must reach constituents through the platforms that work best for them and their providers. As such, we urge VA to take the necessary steps to immediately ensure CHAMPVA beneficiaries are able to access health services through voice communication platforms.”

 

In addition to Senator Capito, the letter was signed by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

 

The full letter is available here and included below: 

 

Dear Secretary Wilkie,

 

We write today to encourage the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide coverage of comprehensive telehealth services, including voice communication, for beneficiaries of the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA).

 

Telehealth has been an important resource for our constituents during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has helped ensure that patients are able to access care without exposing themselves or their providers to the risk of COVID-19 infection. This is in part due to Congressional and administrative action. Many patients that are covered by Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance are now able to receive a greater variety of telehealth services in their own homes, through different platforms, for the duration of the public health emergency due to COVID-19. Our nation’s veterans are also increasingly utilizing telehealth services. This year, VA has seen a 1,000 percent increase in the number of telehealth video appointments conducted each day.

 

Benefits available to CHAMPVA beneficiaries are not the same as those available to veterans through VA. Section 17.272(a)(46) of Title 38, Code of Federal Regulations, allows CHAMPVA to cover synchronous telehealth services, defined as the use of real-time, interactive video conferencing, to assess, treat, and provide care to a patient remotely. Our understanding is that these regulations do not allow CHAMPVA to cover sessions that involve voice communication only, including audio-only conferencing, telephone calls, and text messaging.

 

Our constituents, including those who reside in rural areas where internet access may be limited, need access to telehealth services that involve voice communication, especially during a public health emergency. We appreciate the steps VA has taken in recent years to make telehealth more accessible to veterans and their families, but in order for this access to be meaningful, it must reach constituents through the platforms that work best for them and their providers. As such, we urge VA to take the necessary steps to immediately ensure CHAMPVA beneficiaries are able to access health services through voice communication platforms.

 

We look forward to working with you to ensure continued progress on this issue.

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