HHS 'absolutely supportive' of permanent telehealth provisions after pandemic, Secretary Xavier Becerra says 

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra voiced his support for permanent telehealth expansions and reducing access barriers after the pandemic ends during The Washington Post's June 24 virtual event on digital health. 

In March 2020, CMS lifted several restrictions to make telehealth more accessible and affordable for patients and providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The White House, CMS and other federal agencies updated policies, issued new grants and lifted restrictions on video platform options to support virtual care. 

Here are four quotes from Mr. Becerra on his support for telehealth: 

1. On support for making telehealth expansions permanent. "We are absolutely supportive of efforts to give us the authority to be able to utilize telehealth in greater ways," he said. "We want to make sure that we don't leave anyone behind … and we want to make sure that that includes, of course, making sure broadband and quality broadband is out there for all communities, whether it's a rural part of the country or an inner-city poor area of the country, and we want to make sure that there is accountability." 

2. On not letting telehealth exacerbate inequities, since it requires having a smartphone, broadband and coverage. "Well, not under my watch. We're not going to do things that increase disparities. We're going to do everything we can to include everyone. It should make no difference what ZIP code you live in, in America. You should have access to whatever technologies we as a government through our taxpayer dollars make available, and so that's why we want to make sure we do this the right way and that there's accountability on both ends of the system." 

3. On expanding audio and visual telehealth options. "When we talk about this new type of healthcare, it could be visual or could be audio. There are circumstances under which you don't need to have a smartphone. A phone, any kind of phone, might be enough. We just want to make sure that we're taking advantage of all the technology that lets us communicate with each other to make sure that we're also providing healthcare where possible." 

4. On whether physicians should be able to practice telehealth outside their state licenses. "The farther away you go from the direct connection between patient and provider, the more difficult it will be to try to provide for the accountability, quickly and fairly, for the patient, and so if your doctor is 30 miles away and you live in rural America, we can track down that doctor 30 miles away from you. But if your doctor was 3,000 miles away from you, that's a tougher sell for a consumer who is now trying to get accountability for a service that wasn't properly provided."

 

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