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November 21, 2019

King Cosponsors Bill to Expand Telehealth Services in Rural Maine

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) announced that he is cosponsoring the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, a bipartisan bill that would expand telehealth services through Medicare, improve health outcomes, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help cut costs for patients and providers.

“As one of the oldest and most rural states in the nation, Maine faces unique challenges when it comes to connecting our citizens with vital healthcare services,” said Senator King. “Telehealth can mitigate some of these challenges, bridging the distance between older Maine people and their healthcare providers without forcing them to drive long distances. This technology has the potential to transform healthcare in our state, and it is vitally important for Congress to keep pace with the advances in telehealth so we can improve the health of Maine people.”

According to studies, telehealth has been shown to improve care and patient satisfaction while reducing hospitalizations. The CONNECT for Health Act builds on the progress made in recent years to increase the use of telehealth through Medicare, and:

  • Provides the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the authority to waive telehealth restrictions when necessary;
  • Removes geographic and originating site restrictions for services like mental health and emergency medical care;
  • Allows rural health clinics and other community-based health care centers to provide telehealth services; and
  • Requires a study to explore more ways to expand telehealth services so that more people can access healthcare services in their own homes.

During his time in the Senate, Senator King has been a strong advocate for healthcare in rural areas that is accessible and affordable. In October, he held a panel discussion in Bangor with local healthcare providers and public wellness experts on the best ways to use prevention strategies to improve health outcomes and reduce costs. In late July, he joined a bipartisan group of senators to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to delay their proposed Rural Health Care (RHC) Program report and order to better address the concerns of rural healthcare providers and medical communities. In the June edition of his Inside Maine podcast, Senator King welcomed both U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Kris Doody, CEO of Cary Medical Center to discuss rural healthcare policy and ways to improve access to care across the country. Last year, Senator King and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) applauded a draft proposal from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai that significantly increased funding for the Universal Service Fund’s Rural Health Care (RHC) Program. This increase in the RHC funding cap followed bipartisan letters Senator King led calling for the RHC program to be modernized and strengthened. Also in the 115th Congress, Senator King cosponsored legislation such as the Rural Emergency Acute Care Hospital Act, the Preserve Access to Medicare Rural Home Health Service Act, and the Rural Hospital Access Act, all of which work to better healthcare services in Maine and the United States.

Digital connectivity in rural regions is a key priority of Senator King’s economic agenda and rural broadband roadmap, to help modernize and grow Maine’s rural economy, support innovation, and create jobs. In July, he cosponsored the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, which will increase the accuracy of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) broadband availability maps by improving the process by which broadband data is collected. In May, Senators King and Capito reintroduced legislation to measure the economic impact of broadband so state and federal policymakers can understand the return they will receive on any investments in digital infrastructure. The legislation had previously passed the Senate in December, but was not taken up by the House. In April, Senator King joined his colleagues to introduce legislation to promote “digital equity” so Americans of all background can have equal access to the opportunities created by the internet.

In addition to Senator King, the bipartisan bill is supported by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

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