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Begich: Rural Veterans Deserve Affordable Health Care

Reintroduces Bill to Eliminate Co-Pays for Telehealth

Renewing an effort to provide veterans living in rural areas with more affordable and accessible health care, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has reintroduced The Veterans Telehealth Act of 2011 with Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to waive copayments for telehealth and telemedicine visits for veterans.

The Veterans Health Administration Telemedicine program currently provides 42,000 veterans with in-home care. This includes an estimated 220 Alaska veterans who face a co-payment of up to $50 per telehealth appointment.

"For those living in rural Alaska, providing in-home care or care in a local clinic makes health care more affordable and relieves the stress of having to travel to a major city," Begich said. "This legislation is a simple solution that saves money and actually improves the quality of services delivered by the government. It should be a model for how we can address federal spending as we continue to find ways to reduce the deficit while still serving veterans and other Americans."

Originally introduced one year ago in the 111th Congress, the legislation would save the Department of Veterans Affairs money by reducing the costs of travel. Telehealth allows services to be brought to a patient's home or local clinic via telephone or other technology.

In August 2011 the legislation passed the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, of which Sen. Begich is a member, but did not receive consideration by the full Senate. Following introduction, the legislation will be directed back to the Veterans' Affairs Committee.

"The Senate didn't give this bill a fair shake last year and it's my hope we can benefit our rural veterans by moving it across the finish line this year," said Sen. Begich.

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