Tester Successfully Expands Telephone-Based Health Care for Montana Seniors and Others Without Broadband

New rule will level playing field for seniors and others without reliable broadband access

Following pressure from U.S. Senator Jon Tester, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) today issued an updated rule that will level the playing field for seniors and other Montanans without reliable broadband who need access to health care.

CMS announced today it will increase reimbursement payments to health care providers for telephone-based, audio-only services to match the rate for other telehealth services. Previously those services were reimbursed at a much lower rate for audio-only telehealth, putting Montanans without broadband access – often those who live in rural areas – or those without access to a smartphone or computer with visual technology at a disadvantage as they try to access health care during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“As we all work to slow the spread of this virus, health care has increasingly moved online in order to mitigate risks—but seniors and others without reliable broadband were left in the dark,” Tester said. “I am glad the Administration agrees this is unacceptable, and today’s rule will ensure that folks who lack adequate broadband will have access to the same telehealth opportunities over the phone.”

In a bipartisan letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and CMS yesterday, 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.

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.

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