Medicare Telhealth: A Call To Action For Congress

by Matt Duffy for Congress.gov

Telehealth is one of the greatest health innovations in our generation, but it can be difficult to promote to lawmakers.

Many Congressional offices lack the telehealth capacity, infrastructure, technology, and personnel to provide telephone or video technology to constituents. But with Medicare’s adoption of telehealth to its benefit program last year, seniors and others covered by Medicare will get access to this key benefit.

Medicare is the nation’s largest provider of health insurance. By 2020, Medicare will cover nearly 47 million beneficiaries and is already one of the largest private sectors in the U.S.

Each person with Medicare receives five to seven phone calls from a Medicare Advantage provider each year. If those calls are cancelled, there’s a lag in access to care for that patient, a medical emergency, or a trip to the emergency room. These calls need to be made in the most convenient way for the patient and an alternative to canceling services.

Telehealth takes one of these calls to the hospital to wait on an emergency room. It moves all of these delayed services directly to the patient’s door.

This new option is wonderful for elderly patients who aren’t physically well enough to make the call by themselves.

Medications don’t usually take place by phone, and long-distance health care can be impossible with walkers and other devices. The results can be catastrophic in this case.

Telehealth, on the other hand, means prescriptions can be sent through video-conferencing and made available to those who are unable to make the call.

With telehealth coverage, patients who live more than 50 miles from a hospital will have access to local services through a telehealth center.

The service is also a great tool for younger people, due to its ability to help members of the military, police officers, firefighters, and other first responders.

This year, lawmakers will play a crucial role in promoting telehealth to improve patient care.

Medicare beneficiaries, current and prospective Medicare Advantage participants, and outside Medicare officials who deal with seniors are key to helping build awareness of this important option.

Congress can help guide Americans through the Medicare program, asking more questions about telehealth, listening to concerns from constituents about coverage and access, and understanding the value of providing patients with the telehealth telemedicine option offered by Medicare.

Congress’s level of awareness of telehealth and telemedicine has been slow. But with Medicare taking the first step with Telehealth Premium Promotion, several more organizations are looking to improve their use and understanding of the technology.

Medicare does this through telehealth itself. Congress could take that same route and facilitate a discussion between Medicare and beneficiaries about their trusty Medicare card, cards, and benefits. Perhaps Congress could consider adopting a Medicare bill as a companion.

More information is available here at www.medicare.gov.

Congressman Duffy represents Virginia’s Fifth District. In addition to serving as a member of the United States House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Congressman Duffy serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight of the Subcommittee on Healthcare. His full biography is available at https://www.congress.gov/rodduffy/.

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