By: Noah Vehafric
The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency has opened the door to make telehealth a permanent part of our healthcare system. And that can mean many great benefits to Americans by expanding access, lowering costs, and protecting at-risk individuals.
The use of telehealth grew faster in the past five months than in the preceding 25 years alone. In a report from the Department of Health and Human Services, telehealth visits accounted for nearly half of all Medicare primary-care visits in April alone and nearly 1 in 2 consumers have used telehealth to replace a cancelled in-person appointment. And both private industry and governments at all levels have been working to expand the use of telehealth practices.
President Trump signed an Executive Order this month to launch an initiative to expand healthcare communication infrastructure in order to provide access to telehealth services for over 57 million Americans. And in this year alone, close to 100 measures have been introduced by members of Congress to either expand or deregulate the use telemedical practices.
During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the federal government also waived regulations on Medicare that limited coverage of telehealth appointments only to regions that were officially designated as a rural health professional shortage area. By waiving such rules, individuals living in both urban and rural areas of the country that are underserviced by healthcare were able to experience more equitable access to healthcare services.
State governments have also been a key player during the pandemic in expanding telehealth services. Fourty-eight states eased Medicaid licensing requirements for doctors to treat patients across state lines. Previously, doctors were required to be licensed in the state in which the patient resided in when providing telehealth, but under these easements, that was removed.
These changes to Medicare and Medicaid programs were created as temporary measures, but the healthcare insurance market has already responded by expanding their coverage and reimbursement rates for telehealth services. All of these changes have allowed patients to expand their access to healthcare coverage while protecting their health.
The CDC says that telehealth services can be used to screen patients, provide low risk urgent care, monitor chronic illness, have access to mental and behavioral health, and even participate in physical therapy – all from the comfort of patients home.
Expanding telehealth has garnered support from both sides of the political spectrum. In a joint white paper by the Progressive Policy Institute and Americans for Prosperity, they argue that the temporary policy changes put in place by the Federal and state governments should become a permanent policy.
As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, telehealth services are here to stay. Policy makers will need to decide what role they want it to see in the lives of Americans.
Photo Credit: Army Medicine