Senator Tina Smith has a letter to the editor in The Hill, detailing the need for another round of COVID19 telehealth funding…
Unfortunately, by July, the funds were depleted after being distributed to hundreds of providers in 47 states and Washington, D.C. That’s why earlier this month, I joined with Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) to introduce the bipartisan COVID-19 Telehealth Program Extension Act to invest an additional $200 million so that many more providers can deliver telehealth services during the pandemic. Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) have also introduced a bipartisan House companion bill.
This new funding is especially needed now, as we enter the cold winter months with the country experiencing a significant surge in infections and deaths.
As I’ve tracked the success of the FCC’s telehealth program in my home state of Minnesota, providers of all sizes — from the Mayo Clinic to a small rural tribal provider — tell me how valuable it has been for their patients in overcoming barriers to getting the care they need during this pandemic.
One senior clinical psychologist said telehealth has been “transformative,” by eliminating transportation as a barrier to seeing a doctor. She told me that “among my patients, the mere thought of having to take multiple modes of transportation to access health care is enough to cease the pursuit of care.” Transportation is an especially acute problem in rural areas, where patients often have to travel long distances for services, with very few public transportation options available.
Another Minnesota provider told me that telehealth has allowed her “to reach more patients, while providing the same level of care.” Still another said their clinicians were able to use telehealth services to increase patient contacts, resulting in a 38 percent drop in their “no-show” rates for appointments over two months.
Telehealth also eases the fears of those with preexisting health problems, by allowing them to avoid the risk of visiting a hospital or clinic during the pandemic. And, for parents who lack childcare, it allows them to get health services without the burden of having to arrange for their children’s care while they see their provider in person.
Investing in Telehealth Beyond the Pandemic
As a member of the Senate Health Committee, I’ve championed telehealth because it’s proving to be an important tool in closing some of the most significant gaps in patients’ access to health care services. And it can continue to serve as a lifeline and address social determinants of health, not only during this pandemic, but into the future.