Bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) aims to protect older Americans living in nursing homes from risking exposure to the coronavirus by increasing their access to remote healthcare. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for better connectivity across rural America,” said Sen. Capito, and it “has put rigid restrictions on nursing homes because of the high-risk population they house.”

In response, Sen. Capito on Jan. 27 signed on as an original cosponsor of the Advancing Connectivity during the Coronavirus to Ensure Support for Seniors (ACCESS) Act, S. 57, with bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MI). The measure would bolster the ability of nursing facilities to access telehealth services and obtain technologies to allow virtual visits during the continuing COVID-19 public health emergency, according to the congressional record bill summary.

Endorsed by AARP, S. 57 would authorize an emergency supplemental appropriation of $50 million for the U.S. 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, says a summary provided by Sen. Capito’s office.

Additionally, the bill would establish a grant program authorizing HHS to award grants to nursing facilities toward enabling residents to participate in virtual visits, and would require the HHS Secretary to issue guidance on more ways to improve access to telehealth services in all nursing facilities during the pandemic, according to the summary.

“The ACCESS Act makes investments in telehealth services and infrastructure for assisted nursing facilities to help them connect vulnerable seniors living in nursing homes with virtual access to their loved ones,” Sen. Capito said on Feb. 3.

Among the lawmakers who joined Sen. Capito as a cosponsor of S. 57 is U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (R-IL) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) are expected soon to introduce their chamber’s version of the bill.