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With the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ new rule change, more Americans will be able to access telemedicine

Jul 7, 2020 by AFP

The country’s push toward health care reform, designed to make countless Americans better off, is continuing apace.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed a new rule this week that would make permanent some of the agency’s previous reforms to the practice of telemedicine. Specifically, the rule change would allow home health agencies to continue using remote patient monitoring, phone calls, two-way audio-video, and similar technologies to connect Medicare patients and clinicians.

These reforms would allow more Americans to access telemedicine services.

What does greater access to telemedicine look like during COVID-19?

The new CMS rule offers much worth celebrating. One of those benefits should be recognizable during the COVID-19 crisis: Telemedicine affords patients the ability to seek and receive medical care without risking exposure to the coronavirus.

This is useful for doctors, too. Health care providers would be in a better position to treat COVID-19 patients, encouraging high-risk patients to seek in-person care while diagnosing low-risk patients and allowing them to recover at home.

As a result, health care systems will be able to treat more patients — with a reduced risk of overburdening their capabilities.

Telemedicine’s future benefits

While the CMS rule change will benefit patients during the COVID-19 crisis, it will also benefit them after. Telemedicine has already been shown to produce a litany of better outcomes.

A 2017 review of the UC Davis Health System found that telemedicine saved Americans, collectively, years of travel time — along with millions in driving miles and costs — associated with seeking medical care. For rural patients without many provider options, including the 8.6 million individuals that live outside of a 30-minute drive to the nearest hospital, those benefits are especially pronounced.

Telemedicine also reduces costs for both patients and providers. The service is very popular, too.

Importantly, the new CMS rule would allow a larger share of medical care — particularly through Medicare and Medicaid — to be virtualized. One recent study found that up to 20 percent of emergency room visits, nearly a quarter of all office visits, and 35 percent of regular home health services could be transitioned to virtual care.

There’s still work to do

The new CMS rule represents a critical step toward health care reform at the federal level. Nevertheless, many states still maintain restrictions on telemedicine that don’t protect patient safety but do lower access to affordable care.

While some state governors have issued emergency executive orders to remove some such barriers, most were only temporary. Those restrictions on telemedicine will snap back once the COVID-19 crisis has ended.

But if removing those unnecessary restrictions on telemedicine during COVID-19 was necessary to save lives, why wouldn’t permanently opening remote health care to more Americans leave them better off?

States should lock-in those temporary telemedicine reforms to ensure that the improved health care outcomes stick around after COVID-19.

Learn more about ongoing health care reform from Americans for Prosperity’s Health Care Reimagined campaign and take action today!