Tester Joins Bipartisan Call for Better Access to Telephone-Based Health Care for Montanans without Broadband

Senator: “Your access to healthcare should not be determined by your access to broadband”

U.S. Senator Jon Tester today joined a bipartisan group of his Senate colleagues in calling for audio-only telehealth reimbursements to level the playing field for seniors and others without reliable broadband access.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare, Tester wrote that many Montanans don’t have access to reliable broadband, making it nearly impossible to use video-sharing for telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic and causing them to turn to audio-only telehealth services, which do not receive the same reimbursement rate.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread in communities across the United States, millions of people are following directives to stay home and avoid risking exposure to the virus,” Tester and his colleagues wrote. “In conjunction with those directives, health care providers have shifted to offering audio-visual telehealth services to patients, so that patients can receive evaluations, medical consultations, checkups and other services in their own homes, instead of risking exposure at a health care facility. However, for instances where a patient has no home access to internet, broadband or other cell phone services, physicians and other providers are furnishing these medical consultations through audio-only formats, such as telephone calls.”

Tester has fought tirelessly to expand broadband coverage, especially in rural Montana, and has worked to expand access to telehealth services in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. He urged the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand critical telemental health services for veterans and successfully secured $2.15 billion to bolster telehealth capabilities through increased telework and call center capabilities in the CARES Act.

“While we appreciate the effort of CMS to provide expanded coverage for audio-only services, the current reimbursement rates for audio-only services are not sufficient to make audio-only medical consultations a viable option for many health care providers,” Tester and his colleagues continued. “…We support their efforts to continue offering medical care to our most at-risk populations in their homes and ask that CMS make this care sustainable for providers by ensuring sufficient payment for telephone consultations when clinically appropriate during the COVID-19 outbreak. Your access to healthcare should not be determined by your access to broadband when other approaches are available.”

Tester’s letter is available HERE

Visit tester.senate.gov/coronavirusresources for a list of resources for Montanans during the COVID-19 outbreak