Permanent Telehealth Protections Needed to Continue Improving Health Equity

Jul 13, 2022

Pandemic-era policies have made virtual care more widely accessible to all patients, including communities that have been left behind. We need to ensure we don’t revert back to dated, limited policies that hold even the most under resourced patients back. 

A recent survey from Johns Hopkins University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, telehealth proves that bridging health care disparities helps achieve greater health equity. As the survey outlines, among more than 30 million Medicare fee-for-services claims following the waiver extension, nearly 10 percent of patients had at least one virtual care visit, and individuals living in disadvantaged neighborhoods were most likely to utilize telehealth. This is compared to just 0.42% of patients prior to the pandemic. 

And Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Director Meena Seshamani herself discussed the equity benefits of telehealth, noting that “evaluation of the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and the leveraging of new innovations must occur through the lenses of health equity, quality, access, and sustainability. The infrastructure and culture change resulting from the pandemic can and will enable the creation of a more resilient, responsive, and high-value health care system that better supports all communities.”

According to the 2020 American Medical Association Physician Masterfile, out of the 6,993 listed emergency medicine residents, 98% were in urban areas. In-person health care as the only option excludes a massive portion of patients who live in any of the vast rural communities in this country. Telehealth can be used to help bridge the gap of health care coverage for rural communities, and ensure that the individuals who live outside of the urban bubble, where almost all emergency medicine health care workers occupy, can still be provided with the care they need. Telehealth created an avenue for patients in need, and it is up to our lawmakers to protect their access to safe, accessible care. 

Lawmakers must listen to the majority of patients and providers who are in support of expanded equitable access to virtual care and the many rural and underserved communities who have benefited from this access by enacting permanent telehealth protections.