WASHINGTON, DC — As the numbers of Americans infected with the coronavirus increases daily, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is expanding benefits to help prepare for a surge in patients.
One of the major changes to the Medicaid and Medicare programs is the expansion of telehealth, or consultations with a healthcare professional over the phone or video, for their beneficiaries.
“That’s really important because people still need healthcare whether they are showing symptoms of COVID virus or not.” CMS Administrator and member of the White House coronavirus task force Seema Verma told 104.7 WONK FM’s Jen Richer. “It could be a cancer patient, it could be somebody who’s got heart disease or diabetes, and telehealth allows them to communicate with their doctors from the safety of their own home.”
As of March 6, 2020, CMS will temporarily pay clinicians to provide telehealth services for beneficiaries residing across the entire country.
“We’ve also expanded Telehealth in places that we have traditionally done that before. We’re allowing our emergency rooms to utilize telehealth as well,” Verma said.
This expansion of services also an effort to cut down the number of patients heading to the hospital for treatment that would potentially increase the spread of COVID-19.
“Well I think it’s very critical because we’ve given broad recommendations for the entire country, and that’s all about avoiding unnecessary travel, staying at home, washing your hands, the social distancing, keeping space in between people, and so that’s where telehealth comes in, because it allows people to get care from the safety of their own home,” Verma said.
Patients calling in ahead of visiting the hospital also cuts down on the use of valuable medical gear needed to combat the virus.
“It also helps healthcare workers, keeping them safe and saving personal safety equipment, so we’ve been really trying to do more and more with telehealth,” Verma says.
Last week Congress passed a massive stimulus bill, the largest in American history. The roughly $2 trillion dollar measure is aimed at delivering urgently needed relief to families and businesses.
“We know there’s a lot of people out there that can’t work, or they’re having to stay at home because their kids are out of school, there are business that can’t operate, and so we know Americans need help. They need to be able to put food on the table, they need to be able to pay their rent, and what’s going on isn’t their fault,” Verma said.
A major portion of that stimulus package is also being infused into the healthcare system.
“There’s over $100 billion dollars thats devoted specifically to the healthcare systems and that can help people who might need help paying for their [medical] bills,” Verma said.
But while the country is bracing for a tough few months ahead, Administrator Verma is hopeful.
“I can tell you that I’m very inspired by the true public-private partnership that we’ve seen across the country. You’re seeing random acts of kindness, neighbors helping neighbors going grocery shopping, and then we’re seeing big efforts from corporate America, companies like GE, and Tesla, and Hanes, and MyPillow Company that are stepping up and changing what they normally produce to produce the supplies that our frontline healthcare workers need, whether it’s masks or ventilators,” Verma said.
Listen to the complete interview with CMS Administrator Seema Verma here: