One of the proposals — safeguarding expanded access to telehealth — could help achieve all three of those goals. Lawmakers would do well to relax permanently the telehealth restrictions that were temporarily waived during the pandemic. Those waivers have eliminated onerous barriers to virtual care. For example, Medicare beneficiaries no longer have to travel to a designated healthcare facility just to connect with their physician online. Waivers have also allowed patients in many states to schedule virtual appointments with doctors licensed in other states.
As a result, telemedicine has exploded. According to a recent report from Doximity, a social network for medical professionals, nearly 70% of patients had at least one telehealth visit last year — compared with just one-quarter of patients before the pandemic. But future access to virtual care is far from guaranteed. Many pandemic-era telehealth waivers could run out after the expiration of the federal public health emergency, which could happen later this year.
It would be a mistake to let virtual care flexibility lapse. Telehealth makes it easier for patients — especially those in rural areas — to get care. In a recent survey from the American Medical Association, more than 80% of physicians reported their patients had better access to care since they began using telehealth.
Telemedicine also saves patients money. A new report from Cigna found that a virtual urgent-care appointment costs $141 less than an in-person one.
Telehealth expansion is a commonsense reform that would greatly benefit patients. Lawmakers would be wise to start listening to their 17 colleagues.