Thompson STEP Act Passes U.S. House of Representatives

May 26, 2011
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson’s amendment today passed the full U.S. House of Representatives by voice vote as part of H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012.  The amendment is nearly identical to H.R. 1832, the Servicemembers’ Telemedicine and E-Health Portability (STEP) Act, which Thompson introduced earlier this month. The House passed H.R. 1540 by a vote of 322-96.

The Department of Defense (DOD) currently has limited ability to allow its health care professionals to provide care when the patient is in a different state. Thompson’s measure removes this state licensure burden, empowering the qualified and credentialed DOD health care professionals to use cutting edge telemedicine and e-health applications to treat Servicemembers regardless of their physical proximity. Thompson offered the following remarks in support of the amendment during today’s debate.
Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Thank you Mr./Madam Speaker, thank you Mr. Chairman:

I rise in support of the Thompson/Berkley Amendment # 29, which is nearly identical to H.R. 1832, the bipartisan Servicemembers’ Telemedicine and E-Health Portability Act, or STEP Act.

This amendment will bring essential reforms to how our service members and veterans access care, and common-sense, no-cost changes to how the Department of Defense administers health care.

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.

DoD’s hands are also tied when it comes to civilians or contractors, who have stepped up to fill shortages in desperately needed positions – especially mental health.

As a result, many in the military are required to travel long distances in order to access care. This can add undue stress and financial burdens to the everyday lives of our service men and women.

Too often these circumstances contribute to those who need help the most going without, or in some cases, falling through the cracks.

By removing location requirements, this amendment will allow DOD qualified and credentialed health-care professionals, including contractors and civilians, to get to their core mission of helping their compatriots in need.

This will allow our National Guard, Reserve, veterans, and retirees quicker and more efficient access to care, and open the door to allow for modernization of DOD health-care delivery.

This amendment will allow for new technologies in telephone and Internet communications to expand into the Department of Defense, which will greatly expand access, especially in rural America. It will also allow more specialists to be involved in providing care.

When it comes to behavioral health, the Guard and Reserve have been hit especially hard.

This amendment will allow for the Guard and Reserve to access behavioral health care right from their home – immediately –when they need it the most.

This has been a very important issue to me. I have met with our military and veterans over the past several months and closely examined behavioral health issues affecting our young men and women.

Recently, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, General Peter Chiarelli, said – and I quote -

“The Army, like the larger American society, is suffering from a shortage of behavioral health specialists, and that it is in fact a national crisis. Efforts in tele-behavioral health -- allowing specialists to meet with patients through teleconferencing technology, for instance -- could increase the effectiveness and reach of a limited number of providers.”

But the general then said “there are challenges regarding the credentialing and licensing of specialists to work across state lines.”

This amendment directly addresses this issue and has the means to dramatically improve and change how our nation’s warriors access care. With these restrictions removed, it opens new doors to how the Department of Defense can administer and expand its health care programs.

To be clear, nothing in this amendment is intended to change, nor be the basis of any future change, to DOD or state-based scope of practice laws or regulations.

Ultimately, this amendment is about technology and modernization.

It’s about new ways for service members and veterans to access care.

It’s about fulfilling a pledge to take care of our veterans, regardless of where they live --- at no new costs to the taxpayer.

This bipartisan amendment has broad support from the Pentagon and military community. Some of the notable groups include:

o The Air Force Association
o The American Legion
o The Association of the United States Navy
o The Enlisted Association of the National Guard
o Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
o Mental Health America
o Military Officers Association of America
o National Guard Association of the United States
o Reserve Enlisted Association
o Veterans of Foreign Wars

I ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this commonsense, bipartisan, and no cost amendment – As Memorial Day approaches, we owe our veterans and service members as much.

Thank you - and I yield back.