Let’s Continue to Reap the Benefits of Telehealth After the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

by James Hughes, WFU JD Candidate ’22

Due to the infectious nature of COVID-19, our health care system has been forced to evolve in order to appropriately serve patients during this deadly pandemic. Before the public health emergency, roughly 13,000 Medicare beneficiaries received fee-for-service telehealth services per week, while almost 1.7 million Medicare beneficiaries utilized telehealth services in the last week of April, according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) data. Further, telehealth coverage should be a permanent fixture in our health care system, and the federal government should support telehealth coverage beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Before the public health emergency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) did not provide Medicare reimbursements for audio-visual telehealth visits unless the patient lived in a qualified rural area or was within the confines of certain medical facilities. Reimbursement has historically been the primary obstacle to telehealth services. The Telehealth Services During Certain Emergency Periods Act of 2020 allowed for HHS to modify or waive rules for telehealth under Medicare during the public health emergency, and recently, the American Medical Association asked President Trump, HHS, and Congress to extend some of the telehealth policies used during COVID-19 beyond this public health emergency.  

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Homelessness and COVID-19

by Nathalie Freeman, WFU JD/MA in Bioethics Candidate ’21

This year over half a million people in the United States are experiencing homelessness.  Between 25% and 50% of these homeless people work, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these individuals are serving as low-wage essential workers.  Even without considering the current pandemic, individuals who consistently stay in homeless shelters, or live on the streets, have a lower life expectancy, higher rates of addiction, and more underlying health conditions.  With COVID-19 sweeping the country, homeless people are more vulnerable to the virus than housed individuals due to cramped conditions in homeless shelters, lack of access to basic sanitation materials, pre-existing comorbidities, and a general lack of access to health care.  Additionally, a large portion of the homeless population is elderly and already suffering from pre-existing conditions, like chronic heart or lung disease, which make them more likely to succumb to the coronavirus. 

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