WASHINGTON — A West Virginia senator is among those introducing a bill to increase access for senior citizens to all vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the meantime, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., introduced the Expanded Telehealth Access Act to expand the providers eligible for Medicare reimbursement providing telehealth services.

The Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act of 2021 would provide Medicare beneficiaries access to all recommended vaccines at no additional cost, including shingles and tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap), said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Immunization coverage varies by vaccine under Medicare. Some immunizations are covered under Medicare Part B without any out-of-pocket costs, while some vaccines covered under Medicare Part D require significant out-of-pocket costs.

Prior to the pandemic, more than 50,000 adults in America died from vaccine-preventable diseases every year and the United States spent more than $15 billion annually treating Medicare beneficiaries alone for vaccine-preventable diseases, said a release from Capito and Sens. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., who introduced the bill.

“Over the past months, we have all been reminded how important vaccines are, especially for our seniors,” Capito said. “The Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act will help to increase awareness about recommended vaccines and reduce the financial hurdles, including high-cost sharing, which prevents too many seniors from this cost-effective means of reducing preventable diseases and saving lives.”

The act would:

* Reduce financial barriers by providing Medicare coverage of adult vaccines recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices with no additional cost-sharing for beneficiaries. This would apply immediately to shingles and Tdap, and would apply to new vaccines as they are approved;

* Improve patient education by including information about vaccine coverage in the Medicare & You Handbook; and

* Require a study on vaccine uptake among Medicare beneficiaries.

The Expanded Telehealth Access Act makes permanent the reimbursement eligibility for physical therapists, audiologists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists, McKinley said. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded the types of health care providers who receive reimbursement for telehealth services during the pandemic.

“During the COVID pandemic, healthcare providers adapted and provided telehealth services to serve the needs of millions of vulnerable Americans,” McKinley said. “Telehealth services have been beneficial to the health and well-being of America’s seniors and after the public health emergency ends, it’s crucial that critical access to telehealth does not abruptly end. This bill ensures seniors continue to receive quality, accessible care now and after the pandemic.”

In addition to McKinley and Sherrill, co-sponsoring the bill were Reps. Joseph Morelle, D-NY, Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Albio Sires, D-N.J., Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, Bobby Rush, D-Ill., Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Don Young, R-Ark., Nanette Diaz Barragan, D-Calif., Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., Sanford D. Bishop, D-Ga., Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., and Andre Carson, D-Ind.

According to the CDC, telehealth services have been valuable for vulnerable populations, especially those with compromised immune systems or in rural areas far from a provider. The CDC also notes that expanded telehealth availability is likely to increase health equity.

The Expanded Telehealth Access Act is supported by American Telemedicine Association, American Physical Therapy Association, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, American Occupational Therapy Association, eHealth Initiative and Foundation, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and PCHAlliance, McKinley said.