WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) is continuing her efforts to expand access to health care for Iowans, particularly in the state’s rural areas. In a bipartisan letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Ernst called on the agencies to provide Congress with a written plan and timeline about any potential changes to Medicare rules governing telehealth.
Through the CARES Act, Congress provided HHS with the authority to waive telehealth requirements for the length of the COVID-19 public health crisis. This has allowed patients in Iowa and across the county to continue receiving medical care without exposing themselves or their providers to the coronavirus. Additionally, telehealth has provided a source of financial stability as providers had to delay non-emergency procedures.
However, patients have expressed concern over the temporary nature of changes to telehealth rules and fear a sudden roll back of the rules without advance notice. Senator Ernst and her colleagues urged HHS and CMS to provide transparency and clarity for their plans on the future of telehealth.
“We appreciate your recognition that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more patients and providers see the value of telehealth. We believe telehealth is an important tool that enhances patient care and can provide efficiency in health care delivery,” Senator Ernst and her colleagues wrote. “While telehealth may not be able to replace all in-person care, we believe it should continue to be an option to meet individual care needs.”
In Iowa, the CARES Act extended funds for laptops and tablets to rural healthcare providers, allowing doctors to deliver telehealth services to patients across the state. Through the coronavirus relief package, the Iowa Department of Public Heath received $2 million to expand programs for those struggling with substance abuse and mental illness – and to expand telemedicine statewide.
Ernst has hosted a dozen telephone town halls to hear directly from Iowans on the impacts of the pandemic and to ensure they have access to critical services – including telehealth. The senator has also held question and answer sessions with employees from across Iowa’s economy, including health care workers, small business owners, broadband providers, local mayors and city leaders, and many more.
Ernst continues to work across the aisle to ensure Iowans receive the care they need during the ongoing pandemic. Earlier this year, Ernst urged the Trump administration to remove regulatory barriers that prevented Iowa’s doctors on H-1B and J-1 visas from providing care via telemedicine.