Healthcare

Legislators look to expand health care access through telehealth, biosimilars

Greg Nash

Lawmakers are encouraging a reexamination of the health care industry to address social and economic factors to make it more accessible to the general public.

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) both pointed to the expansion of telehealth amid the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of positive change during The Hill’s “Future of Health Care Summit: Tackling Costs & Pathways to Care” event last week. 

Telehealth is convenient, saves costs and increases accessibility to those in rural communities, they said. With the right services and instruments, patients can record their blood pressure, monitor other vital signs and coordinate care with doctors. 

Cárdenas also pointed to biosimilars — off-brand medicine with no meaningful difference from the original — as a crucial tool to lower drug prices and improve accessibility, ultimately improving mental and physical health of Americans.

“Biosimilars have been approved by the FDA,” Cárdenas told The Hill’s Steve Clemons. “That’s going to bring a lot more competition into the space, which means it’ll bring prices down, make it more prevalent and available to more people across the spectrum.”

Earlier this year, Congress passed the Advancing Education on Biosimilars Act of 2021, which requires the FDA to spread awareness about the cheaper alternatives among health care providers. 

Lawmakers have also introduced various measures to promote telehealth and protect the expanded access many Americans enjoyed during the pandemic. 

Cassidy, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, introduced the Connected MOM Act in March, aiming to ensure expecting mothers have access to telehealth. 

“How do we bring technology to the person where she lives as opposed to requiring her to show up?” Cassidy said at Wednesday’s event, sponsored by Viatris.

The bill would require Medicaid services to provide remote devices and monitors to improve pregnancy and postpartum health outcomes. The bill is currently in the Senate Finance Committee.

There is also increasing evidence of a mental and physical health crisis caused by the pandemic, unrelated to the virus itself. Last year, 40 states saw increases in opioid-related deaths — and the U.S. saw 100,000 overdoses in one year for the first time. 

Cassidy and Cárdenas both said they are working to make prescription drugs for mental illnesses like addiction more affordable and increase virtual medical access for mental health. 

Tags Bill Cassidy biosimilars Telehealth Tony Cardenas

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