Over the past year, COVID-19 has forced us to adapt many aspects of our lives — from how we work and learn to how we safely interact with our communities. One such adaptation came when our health care providers needed to continue offering medical care to Iowans amidst a global pandemic: the rapid and widespread expansion of telemedicine.
From routine check-ups to continuing care, virtual visits with health care providers have allowed families and older Americans across our country to receive the treatments they need while limiting the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.
In Iowa, patients and providers alike have told me how helpful telehealth has been and how important it can be to ensuring hard-to-serve communities can access the care they need — even after this pandemic is over.
That’s why I’m committed to working in Congress to pass the legislation necessary to make expanded telehealth a permanent feature of our health care system.
Telehealth allows health care providers to meet people where they are, which means even folks in our most rural areas and the Iowans who lack regular access to transportation can keep up with their appointments.
Take this past winter, for example, when Iowans had to contend not only with COVID-19 but also bitterly cold temperatures and icy roads. Without telehealth, Iowans would have had to make the difficult choice to bundle up and travel in dangerous conditions just to make it to their appointments.
Expanded telehealth options mean Iowans can cut back on the time and energy they have to expend to get care. Whether it’s finding the time to take off from work, the hours of travel to and from an appointment, or the headache of having to find additional child care in the COVID-19 pandemic, I recognize the importance of access to telehealth — especially for Iowans who require routine care through therapeutic services, such as physical therapy and speech pathology.
In May of last year, I successfully pushed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to make those and other therapeutic services eligible for Medicare reimbursement, ensuring older Iowans could take full advantage of the telemedicine that they needed.
And over the past year, I’ve heard from many Iowans who’ve taken advantage of those telehealth options — folks who make up the nearly half of all Medicare beneficiaries who have used a telehealth appointment in recent months, according to data by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
I’ve wanted to ensure we don’t let telehealth become a temporary feature that is lost when COVID-19 is defeated.
That’s why I introduced bipartisan legislation with U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson of Ohio last year that would catalog the efficiency and quality of telehealth programs that were offered during COVID-19.
The Knowing the Efficiency and Efficacy of Permanent (KEEP) Telehealth Options Act is aimed at documenting telehealth utilization, demonstrating its effectiveness and supporting its continuation and improvement.
This would show how these services have been implemented and where improvements can be made so we could chart a path to keeping these options available for patients who won’t stop needing them when this pandemic is over, all while ensuring providers receive fair reimbursement for the necessary care they deliver
I also am a proud sponsor of bills like the Telehealth Modernization Act and the CONNECT for Health Act, two bills that work together to preserve and strengthen telehealth as a care options for Iowans far beyond this public health crisis.
These pieces of legislation would ensure community health centers and rural health clinics are reimbursed for telehealth services and improving processes to make more telehealth services available to more Americans.
Telehealth services have helped a countless number of Iowans over the last year and despite some early hiccups, these services have been beneficial to both providers and patients.
While changes to telehealth services initially began as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become obvious how much these services were needed by how often they are being used.
Telehealth services should continue to be available to anyone who might need them to keep everyone healthy and safe, and I’ll keep fighting to make that happen for Iowans.
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne of West Des Moines represents Iowa’s Third Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She can be reached at 202-225-5476.