Under pressure from Tester, VA waives payments for telehealth visits

Senator pushed change to increase rural veterans’ access to care

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester scored another victory for Montana’s veterans this week, getting the Department of Veterans Affairs to drop copayments for using telehealth and telemedicine services to increase veterans’ access to care.

Veterans in rural areas or with limited mobility use telehealth services to receive care in their homes or at local clinics.  Data shows that using telehealth technology helps patients with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension live better, more independent lives.

Tester introduced the bipartisan Veterans Telehealth Act last year to waive the copays and has repeatedly pushed for more technology to expand rural veterans’ access to care.  He said waiving copayments, which can be up to $50 per visit, will encourage even more veterans to use telehealth services.

“Montana veterans often live hundreds of miles from the nearest VA hospital or clinic,” said Tester, who helped bring VA telehealth offices to Hamilton and Plentywood in 2010.  “Waiving these fees will encourage more veterans to take advantage of telehealth services, which can make a huge difference for rural veterans who have few other options for care.”

In addition to improving veterans’ health care, telehealth services also save rural veterans the hardship of traveling long distances and save the VA money by reducing travel reimbursement costs.

Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, held a committee field hearing in Billings last month that focused on improving health care access for Montana’s rural veterans.  He also recently introduced a bill to clarify that VA health care is exempt from any upcoming reductions in the federal budget.