Recent Press Releases

Washington, DC —  Senator John Thune addressed the first Summit on Improving Native American Health through Telehealth and Emerging Technologies today in Washington, DC. The Summit was hosted by the Indian Tribal Governments Group of Gardner Carton & Douglas LLP and featured key tribal, federal, health care, congressional, and private sector decision-makers coming together to identify ways to improve health care to Native American people through expanding telehealth and related emerging technologies.

"Right now unnecessary barriers stand in the way of telehealth helping those who would benefit the most from its services," said Thune. "This technology can revolutionize health care in rural areas and on reservations, but we must address the funding and licensure barriers currently preventing more wide-spread use. This technology can save lives and quality health care has to be high on our priority list."

Reimbursement for telehealth services suffers from inconsistencies from one state to another. The largest portion of reimbursement for telehealth services comes from Medicare. In addition, fifteen states reimburse telehealth services under their Medicaid program, but only five states reimburse under both Medicaid and private insurance.

Another barrier to expansion of telehealth services is in the area of licensure. Senator Thune recently sponsored an amendment that added $3 million to the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT) to create resource centers across the country to provide technical, legal, and regulatory assistance for telehealth projects; network grants for demonstration projects for telehomecare which utilizes information technology to deliver health services and exchange information with patients residing in their own homes; and grants to state health licensing boards to develop and implement cooperative policies that reduce statutory and regulatory barriers to telehealth.

"Although there are barriers to expanding telehealth, it is being utilized across South Dakota," said Thune. "The Aberdeen Area Indian Health Service Office utilizes telehealth in over 20 clinical specialties. Aberdeen Area IHS is also developing a tele-pharmacy program that will allow pharmacists direct oversight over medication distribution and patient counseling for the Pine Ridge Service Unit in South Dakota."

According to the Indian Health Service, tribal organizations have received federal grants totaling $3 million for projects related to telehealth, network development, and information technology systems integration. Senator Thune is committed to working toward increased funding for the adoption of telehealth in rural areas and Native American communities.

Senator Thune introduced the Fostering Independence Through Technology (FITT) Act to provide incentives for home health agencies to purchase and utilize home monitoring and communications technologies. The pilot projects will be conducted in both rural and urban areas and at least one project must be conducted in a state with a population of less than one million people.

"We must continue to work together to take full advantage of this technology to provide quality care. The practice of telehealth brings medicine to people who live in medically underserved areas and people who are too frail or too ill to leave the comfort of their homes. It is time for Congress to break down the barriers preventing the implementation of technology into the health care field and together I believe we can accomplish this goal."