The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Deb Fischer
U.S. Senator 

Advancing Telehealth

 

March 31, 2021

I know I am not the first person to say that the pandemic has changed many things about our daily lives. In some cases, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, these changes are temporary and would never have happened if COVID-19 had not come to the United States last year. But in other cases, the past year has simply accelerated permanent changes that were already taking place.

One of the most striking examples of this second type of change can be seen in medicine. Even before the pandemic began, if it was available, a growing number of people were choosing to meet with their doctors online. Through the internet, patients can now receive many types of care quickly and easily from the comfort of their own homes.

Traditional in-person trips to the doctor are often especially difficult if you are elderly, low-income, or unable to travel to a clinic. Remote medical visits are often the answer. They help keep both patients and doctors safe from diseases like COVID-19, and they make life easier in the process.

Telehealth is also important for rural Americans, who often live far from the providers they need to see. In Nebraska, for example, many people live an hour’s drive or more from the nearest doctor, and 13 of our 93 counties have no primary care doctor at all. This problem is even more exaggerated when rural Americans need specialized care, as these types of doctors often practice only in urban areas.

This is why I recently reintroduced the KEEP Telehealth Options Act, a bipartisan bill that would require the federal government to study the role remote health care has played during the pandemic. This would provide Congress with crucial information about how we can best support this practice going forward.

Specifically, the bill would ask the Department of Health and Human Services to find out what programs like Medicare and Medicaid have done to make telehealth more accessible during the past year. They would also be required to report on what has worked well and what hasn’t. That will be invaluable for Congress to know when legislation about telehealth comes before the House or Senate in the future.

I reintroduced this bill along with Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen, whose home state of Nevada faces many of the same rural issues that Nebraska does. But the KEEP Telehealth Options Act would help people in all 50 states, because all 50 states are home to people who live far from the nearest doctor. If we can support this vital practice going forward, people everywhere will be better off.

Even after the pandemic ends, telehealth will be here to stay. The KEEP Telehealth Act is common sense, bipartisan, and stands to benefit not just Nebraska, but all Americans. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get it passed.

 

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