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Schatz, Kaine, Murkowski Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Invest In Telehealth, Expand Health Care To Rural Areas

Legislation Builds On Prior Schatz Law To Use Technology To Deliver High-Quality Health Care To Hard-To-Reach Regions

WASHINGTON. D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), introduced the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes Act of 2019 (ECHO 2019 Act), legislation to increase access to health care services in rural areas by expanding the use of technology-based collaborative learning and capacity building models. These education models, often referred to as Project ECHO, connect specialists with other health care professionals through the use of technology. This legislation builds on the findings of the 2016 ECHO Act, a law authored by Senator Schatz, which required the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to examine ECHO models and deliver a report to Congress on the findings.

“Technology has the potential to transform the way we train doctors and deliver health care,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill will provide new federal funding that will help connect primary care providers in medically underserved areas with specialists at academic hubs, making it easier for medical professionals to access the continuing education they need to provide high-quality health care to the people who need it most.” 

“We have an opportunity to expand access to health care for Americans with the help of technology. This bill is about connecting rural and underserved areas in Virginia and across the nation with specialty care so we can better help those with substance use disorders, chronic diseases, and other complex health care conditions,” Senator Kaine said.

“With 82 percent of our communities in Alaska not connected to a road system, innovation is essential as we work to ensure quality healthcare across the state,” said Senator Murkowski. “As medicine and technology evolve, we must ensure that our healthcare professionals, even in the most rural areas, have access to the continued education that will allow them to provide the best care possible. I have been inspired by the hard work of Alaskans who have already used the ECHO model to expand access to resources on behavioral health, pain management, and developmental disabilities for people across Alaska. I’m proud to help lead legislation that will expand access to specialized care and improve the quality of primary care in medically underserved communities through technology-driven, collaborative learning.”

The ECHO model is an innovative medical education program that uses interactive videoconferencing to link specialist teams with primary care providers in rural areas. It has been shown to address important gaps in health care for underserved populations. The report to Congress resulting from the 2016 ECHO Act found that the model consistently shows positive effects and recommended expanding what is known about the effectiveness of the model.

The ECHO 2019 Act would create a program to provide grants and technical assistance to further develop and evaluate the ECHO model and other similar models. The grants would be used for:

  • Equipment to support the use and expansion of the models, including for the secure exchange of electronic health information;
  • Support for health care providers that provide services under these models;
  • Instructional programming and training; and
  • Information collection and evaluation activities to study the impact of such models.

To learn more about the ECHO 2019 Act, click here.