Capito, Klobuchar introduce legislation to increase seniors’ virtual connection to health care and community amidst pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WOAY) – U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), reintroduced legislation to enhance telehealth support for seniors and increase access to technology for “virtual visits” during the coronavirus pandemic. The Advancing Connectivity during the Coronavirus to Ensure Support for Seniors (ACCESS) Act would help protect older Americans from risking exposure to the virus when accessing remote health care and connecting with loved ones.

“The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for better connectivity across rural America. Additionally, coronavirus has put rigid restrictions on nursing homes because of the high-risk population they house,” Senator Capito said. “The ACCESS Act makes investments in telehealth services and infrastructure for assisted nursing facilities to help them connect vulnerable seniors living in nursing homes with virtual access to their loved ones.”

“During this pandemic, we must protect our seniors’ access to quality health care and ties to family and friends,” Senator Klobuchar said. “This new legislation would help ensure that federal funding is available to expand telehealth and virtual services at nursing facilities so seniors remain connected to their health care providers and communities.”

The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and will be led in the House of Representatives by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (R-Ill.) and Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.). The ACCESS Act is endorsed by AARP.

Specifically, the ACCESS Act would:

  • Authorize an emergency supplemental appropriation of $50 million for the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Telehealth Resource Center to assist nursing facilities receiving funding through Medicare or Medicaid in expanding their use of telehealth services;
  • Establish a grant program authorizing HHS to award nursing facilities grants to nursing facilities to enable residents to participate in “virtual visits” with loved ones while the health risk of in-person visits remains high during the pandemic; and
  • Require the Secretary of HHS to issue guidance on additional ways to improve access to telehealth services in nursing facilities and temporarily designated nursing facilities during the pandemic.