The COVID-19 pandemic made clear that telehealth care will only continue to grow as a vital part of our healthcare system. Over the past year, we saw incredible leaps in reimagining our approach to healthcare and patient services as patients of all ages were required to connect with their doctor or care provider remotely. As we move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and work to improve the quality of care and expand access to our healthcare system, taking advantage of technologies as useful tools and adapting to our dynamic, changing marketplace should be at the forefront to meet our goals.
I’ve heard firsthand from providers in California’s 39th Congressional District, from St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton to Korean Community Services in Buena Park, of the importance of telehealth to help medical practitioners navigate the dangers of the pandemic by reducing infections while providing much-needed care remotely. Everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that telehealth should and must remain a core part of healthcare services.
However, we cannot forget that telehealth is a new tool in our health care system that still needs improvement. During my time in Congress, I’ve been working to find ways to upgrade telehealth services by removing barriers to patient care, expanding capabilities for health care providers and promoting accessibility.
Many laws were created under the assumption that people receiving telehealth care must live in rural areas. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made clear that is not always the case. In California’s 39th District, my constituents live in urban or suburban areas that would be considered accessible for healthcare clinics. There are also many individuals who receive Medicare and are not able to visit clinics in person.
In Congress, I have cosponsored the bipartisan Telehealth Modernization Act, which would permanently remove Medicare’s geographic and originating site restrictions that require patients to live in a rural area and to be physically present in a clinic to use telehealth services. This bill would greatly assist those in need of telehealth care through their Medicare coverage.
I have also cosponsored the bipartisan ACCESS Act in Congress to provide funding to develop telehealth capacity for certain nursing facilities and increase access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
My home district in California is home to more than 70,000 Medicare Advantage enrollees, and California is home to nearly 3 million enrollees statewide. For some patients in the low-income and rural population, video communication is not possible due to a lack of access to technology or internet. Further, many in the senior or at-risk population may have physical limitations preventing them from taking advantage of video telehealth services. We must continue to incentivize innovation and improve our services to ensure audio-only telehealth services are offered to a wide range of patients.
One bill that would help fix this problem is the Ensuring Parity in Medicare Advantage and PACE for Audio-Only Telehealth. This bill would help ensure Medicare Advantage enrollees who cannot access the video component during telehealth visits are able to access care through audio visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Language barriers also prevent many Americans from taking advantage of these services. As an immigrant, representing a vibrant, diverse community, I know many have trouble speaking English and require more complicated health care services to be provided in their native language. I am working to find ways to expand language capabilities for providers in my community as well as across the nation.
As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take into account the tools to make our healthcare system more efficient and resilient for the 21st century. Telehealth services in particular have been instrumental in lowering healthcare costs for patients everywhere and reducing strain on our health infrastructure. While the pandemic taught each of us to expect the unexpected, one thing is clear: telehealth and other innovative medical technologies will only continue to become more prevalent and necessary in our daily lives. That is why I will continue to do my part to improve patient services in for all Americans and future generations.
• U.S. Representative Young Kim, California Republican, represents the 39th Congressional District, which includes parts of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties. She is one of the first Korean American women in Congress and serves on the House Committees on Foreign Affairs; Small Business; and Science, Space, and Technology. She is also a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus and was recently ranked the most bipartisan Freshman member of Congress.