COVID-19

Sen. Daines: Access to Telehealth Beyond The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Critical for All Americans

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The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on all Americans. And over a year and a half later, we’re still facing challenges combating this virus and living with the ramifications of lockdowns, economic hardships, and social isolation.

Small businesses were forced to close their doors, hardworking folks lost their jobs, children had to stay home from school and families were isolated from their loved ones. Through no fault of their own, Americans had to worry about keeping a roof over their family’s heads and food on the table.

The pandemic uprooted our lives, canceling everything from football games and concerts to in-person doctor’s appointments and elective surgeries. This forced Americans to not only socialize through their computer screens, but also access important health services virtually.

For Montanans and Americans, especially in rural communities, telehealth is no longer just an innovative option for accessing services; it has become a vital lifeline to care. Access to remote care has allowed patients to be treated safely without the risk of additional COVID-19 exposure, and it also helped to preserve personal protective equipment during some of the darkest days of the pandemic. With a mounting surge in mental and behavioral health care needs due to the pandemic, telehealth is also a critical tool to expand access to safe, effective treatment in a way that also has been shown to avoid stigma.

As the lead Republican on the finance subcommittee on health care, expanding access to telehealth services, including mental health care, has been a top priority of mine, especially during the public health emergency.

Back in March of last year, I introduced legislation to allow first-dollar coverage of telehealth services during the pandemic. My bill was signed into law as part of the “CARES Act,” allowing Montanans and Americans throughout the U.S. with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) with health savings accounts (HSAs) to access telehealth services without the burden of first meeting their deductible. This policy enabled employers to improve health care access and affordability for tens of millions of workers and ensure patient access to critical care during the pandemic.

Montanans and employers are telling me that expanded access to telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a game-changer and maintaining it is critical to ensure continuity of care, and I agree.

That’s why I’ve teamed up with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) to introduce the “Telehealth Expansion Act of 2021,” which will expand access to care by permanently allowing first-dollar coverage of telehealth services under HDHPs with HSAs. This would continue allowing employers to both expand access to important health services through telehealth while also lowering out-of-pocket costs for patients. Making this bipartisan “CARES Act” policy permanent will ensure the estimated 54 percent of American workers with these plans can continue to have ready access to affordable health care services.

As we look beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth will continue to play a major role in our health care system.  Removing barriers to telemedicine not only promotes flexibility for providers and patients, but it is a commonsense way to make health care more accessible to Montanans and Americans across the country.

The pandemic has highlighted the value of affordable telehealth services, especially for Americans living in rural areas. Now, Congress must act to ensure that patients don’t lose access to critical care by passing my bipartisan “Telehealth Expansion Act of 2021.”

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) serves on the Finance; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources; and Indian Affairs committees in the U.S. Senate.

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