Lawmakers tout improved access to health care via telemedicine

telehealth, telemedicine, video calls with doctors, therapy, phone calls with therapist

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say telemedicine has bolstered access to health care for many Americans since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at The Hill’s “The New Role of Telehealth” event on Tuesday, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), said telehealth gives patients added flexibility and improves “capability and capacity” for providers.

“People who use telehealth, both providers and patients, have very much appreciated the opportunity,” Schneider, a member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, told The Hill’s Steve Clemons.

“What it means is the ability to see a doctor — if someone who lives in a remote location can get to that doctor instantaneously without having to drive an hour or longer for an appointment, it means a cut down on wait times, access to specialists. All of that is very positive.”

But Schneider also expressed concerns about telehealth availability for Americans who live in areas without broadband access.

“Broadband is the electricity of 100 years ago. It’s the distinction of ‘are you a part of the modern world or are you being held back?’” he said at Tuesday’s event sponsored by Neurocrine Biosciences. “We need to make sure that every community has access to broadband. That’s why it was a part of the American Rescue Plan; it’s a part of the infrastructure plan that hopefully will be passed soon, to continue to expand broadband’s reach.”

Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), who also spoke at Tuesday’s event, said telehealth fraud is “something we have to be mindful of,” but that measures such as requiring initial in-person visits could prove helpful.

“There’s fraud in traditional Medicare and Medicaid as well,” said Guthrie, the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. “What we’re concerned about is the telehealth marketers where you’re getting a phone call from a physician, ‘call this number and we’ll provide you with some kind of service’ and it just gets billed to Medicare. So we’re looking at things like ‘you do have to have a visit to the health care provider before you can do telehealth.’”

Guthrie also discussed some of the health care provisions in the budget reconciliation package that Democrats hope will reach the House floor for a vote later this month. He said the health insurance subsidy proposals would contribute to a “cycle of unsustainable health care costs,” but expressed a willingness to reach across the aisle on other provisions.

“There’s a lot of bipartisan stuff in drug pricing we can do,” Guthrie said. “We can do Medicare Part D reform. … We can bring generics to the marketplace quicker so that we have competition for more expensive pharmaceuticals. What we don’t want to do is limit the investment or kill innovation in these types of drugs moving forward.”

Tags Brad Schneider Brett Guthrie Broadband access coronavirus pandemic health care access Telehealth Telemedicine
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