In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) worked together to help seniors temporarily maintain some access to care amid stay-at-home orders and to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure for a vulnerable population by greatly expanding access to telehealth services. This was especially important for heart and stroke patients who require routine medical care to manage their conditions.
Since that time, millions of patients across the country have taken advantage and sought high quality telehealth medical services without the added burden of travel costs and times as well as lengthy waiting room periods for short visits. In addition to the convenience factor for seniors, evidence shows that access to telehealth services is vital to achieving better health outcomes, greater health equity, more patient choice, and a more efficient health care system.
Thanks to pandemic flexibilities, telehealth services have become extremely popular and are a critically important tool to keep our seniors healthy. In fact, Medicare visits through telehealth have increased 63-fold, from approximately 840,000 in 2019 to more than 52 million in 2020. Those 52 million visits are from Medicare patients throughout the country. Whether you’re rich or poor, from a big city like New York or a rural area like northern Alaska, there are more than 52 million examples of patients benefitting from expanded access to telehealth services.
Unfortunately, unless Congress takes-action, the pandemic waivers that allow for the overwhelming majority of telehealth Medicare visits will expire shortly after the COVID public health emergency does. That means that millions of patients across the country would lose access to popular and medically necessary telehealth services. That’s why the Heart Association and You’re the Cure has joined with hundreds of health care stakeholders to urge Congress to permanently extend the increased access to telehealth services that have been so vital.
ICYMI, we recently launched a campaign urging Congress to focus on 4 of our top federal priorities before the year ends. That includes making access to telehealth services permanent by supporting the overwhelmingly bipartisan bill, Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act (H.R.4040) in their year-end spending package. Please take just one minute to click this link and lend your voice in support. It’s quick and easy, yet can help us ensure that millions of patients don’t lose access to the critical health services that they’ve come to rely on.