Blackburn Leads the Way on Telehealth

March 17, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the White House made a critical announcement to expand telehealth due to the advocacy of Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). Following discussions with both the White House and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma about a key regulation inhibiting the use of telemedicine, the administration announced it will waive that regulation to allow beneficiaries to receive a wider range of healthcare services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility, where they may be more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus. This important step will benefit Medicare recipients, and private insurers and Medicaid need to follow suit. 
In today’s Wall Street Journal:
“We need to clear out as many regulatory barriers standing in the way of access to telemedicine as possible,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.). The need is compounded for older vulnerable people seeking prescription refills, for example, she contends, while moving children’s checkups could limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Ms. Blackburn has been pushing for federal authorities to issue waivers that would expand use of telemedicine for Medicaid—a federal-state program for lower-income and disabled people—as well as Medicare.

From CMS Administrator Seema Verma
“Through the 1135 waiver, #Medicare beneficiaries, who are at higher risk for #COVID19, will be able to receive a specific set of services through telehealth including common office visits, mental health counseling and preventive health screenings.” 
Background on 1135 waivers:
When the President declares a disaster under the Stafford Act or National Emergencies Act and the HHS Secretary declares a public health emergency under the PHSA, CMS has the broad authority to waive requirements for Medicaid and CHIP, known as 1135 waivers (Section 1135 of the Social Security Act). Senator Blackburn raised the idea of using 1135 waivers to allow telehealth visits with Administrator Verma’s team and the White House. This would decrease the need for vulnerable populations to come into crowded doctor’s offices or hospitals for visits, limiting exposure to people with the corona virus. Moving routine medical operations, such as checkups for children, prescription refills for seniors, and the evaluation of patients with mild ailments, offsite will limit interaction with those carrying the corona virus.
Senator Blackburn has been at the forefront of innovative thinking on telehealth for years.

Last year, Senator Blackburn introduced her Rural Health Agenda to increase access to health care for the approximately 60 million Americans who live in rural areas -- frequently poorer and in worse health than their urban counterparts. She is working with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to advance her bipartisan Rural America Health Corps Act, cosponsored by Senator Durbin, which addresses some of the most acute shortages of health care providers in rural America. Her Rural Health Agenda could be included in any future coronavirus responses and would greatly benefit those in rural areas who face unique challenges in the wake of this outbreak.

Senator Blackburn’s SOFTWARE Act, which passed as part of 21st Century Cures, directed the FDA to come up with a way of approving health care software that would result in apps getting into the hands of consumers who wanted them, such as Fitbit, Noom, and others.

Today, Senator Blackburn held a Facebook Town Hall to answer Tennesseans’ questions. The full video is available here.