Thompson Testifies Before House Armed Service Committee Urging Full Implementation of STEP Act Provisions

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson today testified before the U.S. House Armed Service Committee on implementation of the Servicemembers Telemedicine and E-Health Portability Act, or STEP Act. This Thompson-sponsored law expands service member health care services and the use of telemedicine at the Department of Defense (DoD). The hearing was part of the committee’s annual process of soliciting input from Members of Congress who do not serve on the committee but are involved with defense policy or related initiatives.

“Members of this Committee have worked closely on the issue of mental health and suicide prevention, and know just how important it is for our service members to have access to the treatment and services they need,” stated Thompson. “The STEP Act was a positive step forward in modernizing how the Department of Defense delivers health care, making widespread telemedicine possible and accessible.”

Thompson’s STEP Act, now Public Law 112-81, Section 713, expands federal exemptions for telehealth consultations across state lines by removing the individual state requirement that health professionals must hold licenses in the state where the care is received.  Health care professionals who are credential by the Department of Defense (DoD) are now able to offer these services regardless of the patients physical location.

Last year the DoD issued a waiver to expand telemedicine for service members to begin implementation of the law. In 2012, the Army was able to perform nearly 36,000 teleconsultations, which includes over 31,200 tele-behavioral health clinical encounters.

Despite this progress, Thompson communicated concerns that the DoD has not utilized its full authority under the new law: “There remain two areas which the DOD needs to address. First, the waiver does not allow service members to use telemedicine from their homes. Second, TRICARE providers were not included as a part of this waiver for licensure portability.”

Thompson requested that the Committee work with the Pentagon and take every action necessary to achieve full implementation and reap the law’s intended benefit. “If full implementation is not or cannot be achieved under the existing authorization, further legislative clarification or additional statutory guidance may be needed,” Thompson stated.

Earlier this week, during a conference call with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs to discuss the status of the law’s implementation, Thompson communicated similar concerns. The Assistant Secretary responded to Thompson by committing to reexamine the scope of the waiver, in order to address these concerns.

Click here to view Thompson's full testimony.