Bipartisan lawmakers back efforts to expand telehealth services for seniors

Bipartisan lawmakers back efforts to expand telehealth services for seniors
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are throwing their support behind efforts to expand telehealth services, especially for elderly patients, to help combat the coronavirus.

Speaking at The Hill’s first virtual event on Wednesday, Reps. Doris MatsuiDoris Okada MatsuiDozens of Democrats plan to vote remotely in a first for the House Hillicon Valley: Experts raise security concerns about online voting | Musk finds supporter in Trump | Officials warn that Chinese hackers targeting COVID-19 research groups Democrats introduce legislation to ensure internet access for college students MORE (D-Calif.) and Bill JohnsonWilliam (Bill) Leslie JohnsonPG&E pleads guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter in 2018 Camp Fire The Hill's Campaign Report: Republicans go on the hunt for new convention site Police unions coalition director: Biden 'off the deep end' in calls for reform MORE (R-Ohio) highlighted how telehealth allows elderly patients to receive proper medical care and checkups during the pandemic while staying at home.

“This is really changing, I think, not only health care for seniors during this pandemic, but for everybody,” Matsui said at the event sponsored by the Better Medicare Alliance. “And I believe that as we move forward, this is going to be one of the things that we can look to as changing health care.”

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Individuals 65 and older are among the most at-risk when it comes to contracting the deadly coronavirus.

“Telehealth is a great, great tool, and if there is a silver lining in this dark cloud of the coronavirus, it’s that the nation’s eyes are now focused on just how urgent it is that we bridge the urban-rural digital divide,” Johnson added.

“There are hundreds of thousands of Americans all over this country, many of them that I represent, that do not have access to broadband internet, and so they can’t do telehealth,” Johnson told The Hill's Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons.

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In addition to the digital divide, telehealth faces other obstacles like computer illiteracy and lack of access to connected devices.

“We had some provisions in the phase one supplemental that broke down some of those barriers, so that Medicare providers could offer telehealth services and get paid for their services,” Johnson added. “We need more of that kind of thing if we’re going to continue to bring health care into the 21st century.”

Allyson Y. Schwartz, president and CEO of Better Medicare Alliance who also spoke at Wednesday’s event, said some health care providers have been offering solutions to help patients who can’t otherwise access telehealth services.

She noted how one provider delivered iPads to patients about two weeks after stay-at-home orders were being imposed.

Matsui and Johnson were joined at the virtual event by Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonKaren Bass's star rises after leading police reform push The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - States are pausing reopening Democrats release bilingual ads on police reform bill MORE (R-Mich.), former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees health care.

Upton, who has teamed up with Matsui and Johnson in the past on telehealth legislation, said, “This is a new thing for all of us, and the only way to get to the conclusion is, we gotta work together, and that’s the challenge.”