Schakowsky and Peter King Introduce Legislation to Assist Seniors with Health Care Access and Communication with Loved Ones During COVID-19 Crisis

April 10, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, and Congressman Peter King (R-NY) introduced the bipartisan Advancing Connectivity during the Coronavirus to Ensure Support for Seniors (ACCESS) Act. Many older Americans and individuals with disabilities rely on nursing homes to survive, and the COVID-19 pandemic has severely isolated nursing home residents from their family members and health care providers who often are essential caregivers and advocates. This legislation would protect these vulnerable populations from risking exposure to coronavirus by increasing their access to remote health care and their ability to connect with loved ones online. Last month, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Robert P. Casey, Jr. introduced the bill in the Senate (S. 3517).

“At the onset of this global health crisis, we saw that our older Americans living in nursing homes were the first to bear the brunt of the coronavirus,” said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. “We are introducing the bipartisan ACCESS Act to make sure all nursing home residents can take advantage of telehealth services and keep in close contact with their families and other loved ones. Though physical distancing is critical, it does not have to result in damaging social isolation.”

Congressman Peter King stated, ““Physical distancing is critical to ensuring the safety and health of our seniors. However, that does not mean they need to be isolated socially from their loved ones. I am proud to work with Rep. Schakowsky on this legislation which will allow seniors stay in close contact with friends and family.”

“Protecting our seniors during this coronavirus outbreak does not have to come at the expense of their access to quality health care and maintaining ties to family and friends,” Senator Amy Klobuchar said. “This legislation would help ensure that federal funding is available to expand telehealth and virtual services at nursing facilities so that seniors remain connected to their health care providers and communities when in-person visits are limited during the pandemic.” 

Specifically, the ACCESS Act would:

  • Authorize an emergency supplemental appropriation of $50 million for the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Telehealth Resource Center to assist nursing facilities receiving funding through Medicare or Medicaid in expanding their use of telehealth services;
  • Require the Secretary of HHS to share recommendations on additional ways to improve access to telehealth services in nursing facilities and temporarily designated nursing facilities during the pandemic; and
  • Establish a grant program authorizing HHS to award nursing facilities grants to nursing facilities to enable residents to participate in “virtual visits” with loved ones while the health risk of in-person visits remains high during the pandemic.

Endorsing organizations of the ACCESS Act include AARP, the Center for Medicare Advocacy, Justice in Aging, the Long Term Care Community Coalition, and the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care.

“During this frightening time, the health and safety of people living in nursing homes, assisted living, and other residential care facilities is paramount, which is why it is so critical that they have the ability to virtually visit and communicate with their loved ones while in-person visitation is restricted. Expanding access to telehealth in nursing homes can also help ensure more efficient and effective access to care and use of nursing home staff, especially when there are greater demands and responsibilities for care,” said Bill Sweeney, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for AARP.

A one pager of the bill is available HERE and bill text is available HERE.