As Congress takes up health care reform in the coming months, it will be essential to address the barriers that exist for Americans in rural areas who need access to specialized care. Residents in rural South Dakota and other places often have to travel great distances to visit specialists and hospitals, usually at a high cost to the patient.

We are fortunate to live in an age where technology can help us overcome the distance between doctors and patients. Telemedicine allows doctors and patients to connect through video imaging and telecommunications technologies without long-distance travel, while at the same time reducing costs. I believe that telemedicine can continue to have a significant role in improving rural health care into the future.

I am proud to have reintroduced the Fostering Independence Through Technology (FITT) Act this month along with Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharThe Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise Trump: Bernie Sanders 'missed his time' for White House MORE (D-MN). The FITT Act creates a pilot program in Medicare in which participating home health agencies receive incentive payments to expand the use of home-monitoring technologies.  The pilot program is budget-neutral, as the payments to providers are based on the Medicare savings achieved through the increased use of telemedicine.  Expanding the use and availability of new home-monitoring technologies can save money for the Medicare program, because it allows physicians and nurses to monitor basic vital signs and to stay in communication with patients from home.

Studies show that rural populations, in addition to many urban areas, are often underserved when it comes to health care and may not have access to certain types of specialists, and telemedicine technology can help bridge the divide. Telemedicine also affords new opportunities to individuals with disabilities by allowing them flexibility to stay in their homes and gain access to specialists.

Telemedicine represents a golden opportunity for Congress to improve healthcare for the underserved while at the same time reducing the costs. I am proud that the FITT Act enjoys bipartisan support, and I believe that telemedicine can be an issue which unites Republicans and Democrats as we move forward with health care reform.