AAFP Before U.S. Senate Committee on Finance: Adopt Telehealth Policies That Increase Equitable Health Care Access and Enhance Continuity of Care
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, May 19, 2021
WASHINGTON – The COVID-19 pandemic opened up emergency flexibilities that have improved patients’ access to primary and preventive care. The American Academy of Family Physicians urges the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to make some of these changes permanent in order to advance health equity, protect patient safety, and enable clinicians to provide the right care at the right time beyond the current public health emergency (PHE).
In written and verbal testimony today at the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance’s hearing on COVID-19 health care flexibilities, family physician Kisha Davis, MD, called for telehealth policy that increases access to health care and promotes high-quality, comprehensive, continuous care. Further, she highlighted the need for Medicare and Medicaid to provide no-cost coverage of all vaccines recommend for adults, and the importance of lessening administrative burdens to allow physicians to have more time to focus on patient care.
“Over the last year, family physicians rapidly changed the way they practice to meet the needs of their patients amid a global pandemic,” said Davis. “Arguably, the most dramatic shift was the unprecedented uptake and increase of telehealth services.”
Prior to the pandemic, less than 15% of family physicians offered virtual visits for patients. This was in large part because of Medicare restrictions and inadequate reimbursement. Quick legislative and regulatory action early on in the pandemic enabled more than 90% of family physicians to provide virtual visits to their patients.
"While the rapid expansion of telehealth has yielded many benefits for patients and clinicians, not everyone has benefited equally. Without sufficient investment and thoughtful policies, telehealth could actually worsen health disparities," Davis said. “Telehealth, when implemented thoughtfully, can improve the quality and comprehensiveness of patient care and expand access to care for under-resourced communities and vulnerable populations.”
The AAFP called on lawmakers to adopt telehealth policies that enhance the physician-patient relationship rather than disrupt it, and incentivize coordinated, continuous care provided by the medical home.
“As a physician, I want telehealth to be a tool in my toolbox, and I want to choose when and how to deploy it based on my clinical judgment, not based on whether I will get paid,” said Davis.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) praised the policy recommendations that Davis shared as “sensible.” He and numerous other Senators specifically agreed on the importance of preserving access to audio-only telehealth beyond the PHE. Finally, it was evident throughout the hearing that the Committee shares the AAFP’s interest in advancing health equity via the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 133,500 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the largest medical society devoted solely to primary care. Family physicians conduct approximately one in five office visits -- that’s 192 million visits annually or 48 percent more than the next most visited medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care. To learn more about the specialty of family medicine, the AAFP's positions on issues and clinical care, and for downloadable multi-media highlighting family medicine, visit www.aafp.org/media. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, please visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website, www.familydoctor.org.