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July 24, 2020

King, Young, Capito Seek Ways to Make Coronavirus Telehealth Expansions Permanent

Senators introduce legislation to assess the capabilities, strengths and lessons learned from increased distance medicine treatment during pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) joined Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) to introduce legislation to study the impacts of telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID–19 Emergency Telehealth Impact Reporting Act of 2020, requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to assess key health care data, including utilization rates and hospital readmission rates, for patients who received their healthcare through expanded telehealth programs during the pandemic. The findings on health outcomes and patient satisfaction will help lawmakers determine next steps for the use of telehealth, which was drastically expanded during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As the coronavirus pandemic has upended our society, telehealth has emerged as a lifeline that can offer safe and effective treatment options many Americans – especially seniors, residents of rural communities, and those at high-risk of contracting the coronavirus,” said Senator King. “The steps Congress took to expand telehealth options at the beginning of the pandemic have helped many Americans access critical services during a time of crisis – but I want us to use these difficult times as a doorway to a more efficient and effective approach to telehealth. Let’s take a hard look at what’s working, what isn’t working and what unexpected developments came with telehealth during this crisis, and map out the best way to use this tool in the future to help Americans access the care they need.”

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress’s COVID relief packages, combined with action from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), took steps to expand telehealth services to millions of Americans access to vital health care services from the safety of their homes. The telehealth flexibilities provided by Congress and CMS permitted health care professionals to treat patients virtually – either by teleconferencing or over the phone– and across state lines, a practice that regulators previously prohibited. 

These increased flexibilities resulted in more than nine million Americans receiving a telehealth visit during the public health emergency. This bipartisan legislation will help policymakers evaluate the effectiveness of these changes, specifically if they kept patients healthier and happier, made providers more satisfied, and reduced the overall costs of care. 

Senator King has pushed to expand and improve telehealth services so that Americans have can safely be treated in their homes amid the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, Senators King and Young introduced the Mental and Behavioral Health Connectivity Act, legislation to allow Medicare beneficiaries to continue to access mental and behavior health services through telehealth in the near term and after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. Senator King also introduced the Improving Telehealth for Underserved Communities Act, legislation to protect patients receiving care through telehealth services by shielding certain rural health clinics (RHCs) and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in underserved communities from impending Medicare payments that could hinder their ability to care and treat patients.

As an honorary member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s rural health task force, Senator King consistently seeks information from Maine health care experts and patients to improve care in the state.  He has joined video calls to hear directly from the “Choose To Be Healthy Coalition” at York Hospital, and Northern Light Health. Earlier this month, he cosponsored legislation that would adjust a CMS loan program in order to reduce interest rates for healthcare providers struggling to manage the financial pressures created by the pandemic. He has cosponsored bipartisan legislation that would extend a lifeline to rural hospitals and providers and the 60 million Americans who depend on them for health care by providing immediate financial relief, stabilize hospitals, and encourage hospital coordination. Senator King joined the Maine delegation to take action to protect access to healthcare and preserve important economic drivers in rural Maine. He has also urged the FCC to expand access to telehealth services in rural communities, and joined a bipartisan group of Senators calling for telehealth expansions included in coronavirus relief legislation to be made permanent.

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