Congresswoman Shelley Berkley joined Congressman Glenn Thompson in introducing H.R. 1832, The Servicemembers' Telemedicine & E-Health Portability (STEP) Act this week.
The STEP Act
will expand the current Department of Defense (DOD) state licensure exemption to allow credentialed health care professionals to work across state borders without having to obtain a new state license.
"We salute each and every servicemember for their military service and we must honor their dedication and sacrifice by making sure DOD has the resources and qualified treatment providers needed to care for our heroes in Nevada and across the nation," said Berkley. "That includes even more assistance for our troops who are coping not only with physical injuries, but with the challenges of PTSD and other mental health issues we are still working to better understand. This bill recommits us as a nation to honoring the service of America's military, modernizing DOD for the 21st Century and increasing the quality and convenience of support and services for our returning troops."
Currently, the Department of Defense has limited ability to allow its health care professionals to provide care when the patient is in a different state. As a result, many who rely on military care are required to travel long distances to receive treatment, presenting increased financial burdens and unnecessary obstacles to accessing services. By removing this state licensure burden, the legislation empowers qualified DOD professionals to use cutting edge telemedicine and e-health applications to treat servicemembers regardless of their physical proximity.
"One of my long-standing goals in Congress has been to expand the availability of mental health services through DOD. Increasing servicemembers' treatment options by decreasing outdated restrictions on well-qualified health care professionals is an important step toward meeting that goal," Berkley said. "This bill addresses the changing medical needs of America's men and women in uniform and reduces barriers to ensure full access to quality health care for all who proudly serve in America's armed forces -- regardless of their location."
The DOD's hands are currently tied when it comes to credentialed civilian employees and contractors who have stepped up to fill shortages in desperately needed positions, especially in the area of behavioral health treatment. The STEP Act will expand the definition of "health care professional" under the previous exemption to include qualified DOD civilian employees and personal services contractors. The bill requires a report within 90 days of enactment on DOD and Veteran Administration plans to develop and expand programs to use new Internet and communication technologies for improved access to telemedicine and electronic health programs.
The STEP Act has received support from the following organizations and groups thus far:
* Air Force Association
* Association of the United States Navy
* The American Legion
* The National Guard Association of the United States
* The Reserve Enlisted Association
* The Military Officers Association of America