A group of 30 senators from both sides of the aisle on Monday urged leadership to make the expansion of telehealth services permanent. The FCC said it’s awarded more than $104 million of the total $200 million in appropriated funds through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program as of June 10. Congress appropriated $200 million to the agency to address the coronavirus “by providing telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to enable the provision of telehealth services.”
The senators urge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) to extend telehealth provisions included in previous COVID-19 legislation after the public health emergency is over. “Americans have benefited significantly from this expansion of telehealth and have come to rely on its availability,” said the lawmakers led by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Roger Wicker (R-MS). “Congress should expand access to telehealth services on a permanent basis so that telehealth remains an option for all Medicare beneficiaries both now and after the pandemic.”
Telehealth has grown in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic as a safer alternative to in-person visits. “Telehealth has rapidly transformed from a technocratic, wonky issue to an essential strategy for keeping people alive,” Schatz told Politico.
The senators say enhanced telehealth capabilities could result in improved service with lower fees beyond the pandemic. “Doing so would assure patients that their care will not be interrupted when the pandemic ends,” the senators wrote in a letter to McConnell and Schumer. “It would also provide certainty to health care providers that the costs to prepare for and use telehealth would be a sound long-term investment.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs says virtual visits jumped from about 10,000 a week to 120,000 between February and May of this year, reported Politico. The department has also handed out about 26,000 tablets to patients, and T-Mobile, Verizon and other wireless providers are waiving data charges for Veterans using VA telehealth services, according to the VA.
In addition to Schatz and Wicker, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Doug Jones (D-AL), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Angus King (I-ME), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tim Scott (R-SC), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Steve Daines (R-MT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Chris Coons (D-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Cory Gardner (R-CO).