Sen. Brian Schatz: Telehealth is ‘single shining exception’ to partisanship

The COVID-19 pandemic acted as an accelerator of sorts for many experiments with virtual care implementations.   

But, panelists pointed out during the American Telemedicine Association conference on Tuesday, it’s important to take the lessons learned during the pandemic incorporate them into future innovation efforts.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth was seen by many as the future of healthcare,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, during opening remarks. 

“But today, it is healthcare,” he continued.

Schatz, who recently spoke with HIMSS TV about the importance of safeguarding telehealth in the long term, pointed to the CONNECT for Health Act as evidence of broad-based support for virtual care.   

“For more than a decade, bipartisanship on healthcare has been very hard to come by,” said Schatz. “But the single shining exception is telehealth.”  

“That’s because telehealth works, it’s popular,” he argued.

Schatz urged attendees to continue pushing for access to virtual care.

“We cannot should not go back to the Stone Age of telehealth coverage,” he said.  

Indeed, if Congress does not act, advocates have repeatedly warned that Americans will face what they call a “telehealth cliff.”

Absent any change in law, “the vast majority of those waivers” put into place at the start of the public health emergency “are going to go away,” said Amy Bassano, deputy director at the Center for Medicare Medicaid Innovation at CMS, in a fireside chat following Schatz’s remarks.

At CMMI, she says, “we are thinking about everything we’ve learned to date, based upon our models we’ve tested [and] based on what’s happened in the public health emergency … how can telehealth these other services really be a tool to help achieve those savings.”

CMMI, she says, has the authority to test how different innovation models – including those that use telehealth – can increase efficacy.   

“As we think about being patient-centered … we think we can use our models to help ensure equity for the providers, for the patients – the folks in the models the healthcare system at large,” she said.  

Given general concerns about telehealth spending, she said, “We need to be in a place where we are not looking to just increase costs or add additional services for the sake of those services.”   

“They really need to be very focused on the outcomes what we are trying to do,” she continued.  

If Bassano could “wave a magic wand” to set virtual care-related priorities in the near future, she said, “It really is continuing this movement [toward] value recognizing that virtual care is a really important part of that.”  

‘Regarding how the private sector could contribute to this effort, she said, companies could should keep “building what people need” creating tools that are compliant with other requirements.

In short, she said, “Keep on going.”

The movement over the last decade alone, she said, has been amazing. “I can only imagine where we’ll be ten years from now,” she said.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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