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Klobuchar, Casey Legislation to Increase Seniors' Virtual Connection to Health Care and Community During Coronavirus Outbreak Gains Bipartisan Support and Endorsement from AARP

Statement

Today, legislation led by U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Bob Casey (D-PA) to enhance telehealth support for seniors and increase access to technology for "virtual visits" during the coronavirus pandemic was introduced in the House and endorsed by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Peter King (R-NY) and supported in the Senate by Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the Advancing Connectivity during the Coronavirus to Ensure Support for Seniors (ACCESS) Act would help protect one of the most vulnerable populations from risking exposure to the virus when accessing remote health care and connecting with loved ones.

"Protecting our seniors during this coronavirus outbreak does not have to come at the expense of their access to quality health care and maintaining ties to family and friends," Klobuchar said. "This legislation would help ensure that federal funding is available to expand telehealth and offer virtual visitation services at nursing facilities so that seniors remain connected to their health care providers and communities when in-person visits are limited during the pandemic."

"One unfortunate consequence of this pandemic is that families cannot visit their loved ones in nursing homes. Friends and family are forced to stare through window panes, and sometimes residents do not have access to technology that would allow them to virtually connect with their families," Casey said. "That's why I am pleased to work with my colleagues Senators Klobuchar and Capito on the bipartisan Advancing Connectivity during the Coronavirus to Ensure Support for Seniors (ACCESS) Act, which would help nursing homes purchase technology to ensure residents are able to remain connected with their loved ones. In the face of a crisis that is forcing us to be apart, we need to do all we can to allow nursing home residents to feel connected to the ones they love."

"With more people working and studying from home, 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," Capito said. "The ACCESS Act strikes at both of these issues, investing in telehealth services infrastructure for assisted nursing facilities and connecting vulnerable seniors living in nursing homes with virtual access to their loved ones."

"At the onset of this global health crisis, we saw that our older Americans living in nursing homes were the first to bear the brunt of the coronavirus," Representative Schakowsky said. "We are introducing the bipartisan ACCESS Act to make sure all nursing home residents can take advantage of telehealth services and keep in close contact with their families and other loved ones. Though physical distancing is critical, it does not have to result in damaging social isolation."

"Physical distancing is critical to ensuring the safety and health of our seniors. However, that does not mean they need to be isolated socially from their loved ones. I am proud to work with Rep. Schakowsky on this legislation which will allow seniors stay in close contact with friends and family," Representative King said.

The ACCESS Act is endorsed by AARP, the Center for Medicare Advocacy, Justice in Aging, the Long Term Care Community Coalition, and the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care.

"During this frightening time, the health and safety of people living in nursing homes, assisted living, and other residential care facilities is paramount, which is why it is so critical that they have the ability to virtually visit and communicate with their loved ones while in-person visitation is restricted. Expanding access to telehealth in nursing homes can also help ensure more efficient and effective access to care and use of nursing home staff, especially when there are greater demands and responsibilities for care," said Megan O'Reilly, Vice President of Government Affairs for 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;
Require the Secretary of HHS to share recommendations on additional ways to improve access to telehealth services in nursing facilities and temporarily designated nursing facilities during the pandemic; and
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.


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