What They Are Saying: Bipartisan Lawmakers, Health Care Experts Tout Virtual Care Benefits, Call for Telehealth Permanency
Subcommittee Hearing Emphasizes Value of Virtual Care, Need for Action as 2024 Deadline Looms
During a U.S. Senate Committee on Finance Subcommittee on Health Care hearing Tuesday, “Ensuring Medicare Beneficiary Access: A Path to Telehealth Permanency,” lawmakers and experts discussed the benefits of expanded telehealth access for Medicare beneficiaries and the need for permanent action to protect telehealth access.
Read what lawmakers and experts said during the hearing here:
Chairman Ben Cardin (D-MD): “I saw firsthand what telehealth means in terms of access to care, timely care, and quality care. It’s also less costly for the consumer, that is for sure; the consumer can get the care without having to change their work schedule and transportation schedules, etc. It is what the patient really wants, and it gives greater access to care than we would otherwise see. Now, COVID put a real spotlight on telehealth. We saw a 63-fold increase in telehealth services in the Medicare population during COVID. I think we understand why. And Congress responded by removing some of the hurdles on telehealth … it is important that we deal with the permanency of these provisions.”
Ranking Member Steve Daines (R-MT): “Through a series of agency waivers and bipartisan legislation, the Medicare program pivoted over the last few years to allow for greater and more flexible telehealth access for beneficiaries… Since implementing these flexibilities, we’ve seen the advantages telehealth offers and the expanded access it provides in rural states like Montana and parts of Maryland. Telehealth has completely changed the game in terms of healthcare access… As the pandemic has demonstrated, telehealth can help us bolster mental health services and address some of the access gaps throughout the country. It’s safe to say there’s no going back now, as we’ve seen how transformative telehealth can be; we have proved the concept. The question is, how is Congress going to shape the future of telehealth when the Medicare waivers expire at the end of next year?”
U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV): “Like my colleagues, I support telehealth services. I think they should be permanent for the very reasons that you’re all saying, and there are other areas of barriers that we have to address.”
U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD): “We’ve long understood the value of telehealth, and the pandemic not only demonstrated the importance of telehealth but also provided an opportunity to gather real data from its use, and I think that has helped illuminate even more the potential ways in which we can deliver particularly mental health services via technology. And while we’ve extended the telehealth flexibilities in Medicare until December of 2024, we need to work toward permanent telehealth policies.”
U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): “Once COVID happened, everyone said we need to have telehealth on the books. So it came in through the emergency health order, and being able to make these COVID-19 waivers permanent is something that I am hopeful we are going to be able to do. What we’ve learned is that seniors, elderly people with complex medical issues, people that have their primary source of care delivered at a great distance, they have really benefited from this.”
Ms. Nikki Perisho, Program Director, Northwest Regional Telehealth Resource Center, University of Utah: “I really believe that telehealth plays a critical role in improving access to timely and regular health services with highly qualified practitioners, especially for patients with challenges that affect access and care coordination.”
Dr. Eric Wallace, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Nephrology, University of Alabama at Birmingham: “The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that telehealth has the potential to transform a rural hospital bed from available but unusable to available and useful… As we look to the future, how will telehealth play a major role in the success of any healthcare system? Number one, telehealth is vital to the survival of world healthcare by providing access to subspecialty support. Number two, telehealth is and will continue to play a large role in value-based care by reducing no-show rates and readmissions and shifting more chronic disease management to the home. And three, alleviating nursing and provider staffing shortages by leveraging urban and national workforces.”
Dr. Chad Ellimoottil, Medical Director of Virtual Care, University of Michigan Medical Group, Associate Professor of Urology at the University of Michigan, Telehealth Policy Researcher: “I understand that there’s appropriate concern both within this committee and beyond that permanent expansion of telehealth will result in excess healthcare utilization and spending. Based on my research and my experience overseeing telehealth at the University of Michigan, I can confidently say that this is unlikely to happen … Point number one: Telehealth expansion has not led to runaway healthcare spending or utilization. Point number two is that telehealth does not compromise the quality of care for patients. And point number three is that telehealth improves access to care. In the end, making telehealth expansion permanent is about ensuring that Medicare beneficiaries have choices in their care, whether it’s in person, via video, or through a phone call. I applaud this committee for its extensive efforts in making telehealth coverage permanent.”
ABOUT TELEHEALTH ACCESS FOR AMERICA
Telehealth Access for America (TAFA) is a public education campaign supported by leaders in health care committed to better care, expanded patient choice, and protecting access to critical telehealth services. Learn more and take action today at www.telehealthaccessforamerica.org.