Harder Announces Bipartisan Bill to Improve Telehealth Access for Central Valley

October 24, 2019
Press Release
STAR Act will Help Connect Patients with Doctors, Reduce Health Care Costs

WASHINGTON – Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) announced that he will introduce the Specialty Treatment Access and Referrals (STAR) Act to provide support for the creation of new telehealth infrastructure. The bill will allow patients and doctors in the Central Valley to electronically connect with doctors in other areas of the state through eConsults and other telehealth services. The bill is cosponsored by Republicans Rep. Don Yong (AK-at large) and Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01).

“It’s 2019 – you shouldn’t need to drive all the way to the Bay or even Sacramento to see a specialist,” said Rep. Harder. “The technology and systems already exist in some places to connect doctors and patients, but the Central Valley doesn’t have the level of access we need – this bill would fix that problem and lower costs.”

“In our rapidly changing world, technology has evolved significantly, and health care delivery should be advancing along with it,” said Congressman Don Young. “Rural communities -- particularly in Alaska – can greatly benefit from increased access to telehealth services, and we should be supporting this technology to help expand to patients across the country. I am proud to cosponsor the STAR Act to work toward bringing down health care costs and delivering the personalized, patient-centered care Alaskans deserve.”

“Rural communities often lack easy access to health care providers, particularly for mental health. Expanding telehealth systems can close this rural-urban gap," said Congressman Fortenberry. "It's why I cosponsored the STAR Act, so rural communities don't have to choose between health care and their way of life.”

“We’re proud to support eConsult programs – they give our providers and patients more access to specialists, save an enormous amount of time, and help to educate our physicians on how to treat similar cases in the future,” said Ruben Chavez, Vice President and Chief of Operations of Golden Valley Health Centers. “We’re always looking for more ways to build out these successful programs, and this bill would be very helpful in that regard.”

“Support for health centers to provide telehealth and eConsult services is critical to the use and adoption of these innovative and effective tools that help reach the hardest to reach patients in rural and medically underserved communities,” said Eric Brown, President of the California Telehealth Network. “The California Telehealth Network applauds Representative Harder and strongly supports this legislation, and we look forward to its passage.”

“One of the toughest healthcare challenges we face in this country involves how to provide quality care to individuals and families living in areas that have comparatively few healthcare practitioners,” said Mary R. Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council. “Congressman Harder’s legislation to advance telehealth capabilities will extend the scope of our healthcare workforce and, in so doing, provide greater access to care for those who are currently underserved. We applaud his vision in addressing this critically-needed aspect of our healthcare infrastructure.”

“Providing technical assistance support for health centers to incorporate eConsults into their daily operations is critical to reaching underserved communities and supporting specialty care,” said Jana Katz-Bell, Assistant Dean, Interprofessional Programs, University of California, Davis. “UC Davis has long been committed to utilizing technology to expand access to services, including eConsult, which holds promise for patients and providers.”

Many patients in the Central Valley are referred to specialists by their primary care physician. Unfortunately, the Valley experiences a dearth of specialists, meaning patients may have to travel for hours  - missing a day of work or school – for an appointment or skip vital care altogether. Advances in technology have led to the creation of new telehealth systems, including eConsults, which allow doctors to communicate with one another to discuss a referral. The technology also allows patients to personally interface with doctors online on a secured platform. Unfortunately, many health care systems lack access to the technology necessary to implement telehealth options.

Rep. Harder’s STAR Act would create a grant program to help health care organizations to establish the information-sharing and connectivity infrastructure necessary to provide telehealth services.

Telehealth systems can significantly improve access to specialist care and reduce the need for primary care physicians to conduct such work according to a 2018 study. EConsults specifically have also proven to be cost-effective. Specialty care costs dropped by nearly $500 in one study probing the effects of eConsult on Medicaid costs for cardiology services. They can also provide rapid access to pain and addiction specialists, reducing mortality from substance use disorders.

Rep. Harder is a leader in improving access to health care and cutting costs for the Central Valley. Earlier this month, he introduced the Stopping Doctor Shortages Act, which could bring an estimated 10,000 new doctors to California over the next five years. Harder also supported a bipartisan bill to repeal a new tax on health insurance.