Weekly Columns

Health care workers have long been regarded as some of our nation’s most critical and courageous servants. During this time of challenges and uncertainty, this has never been more accurate. Each day, our health care professionals make tireless sacrifices to serve and protect our country, even when it means risking their lives to care for others.

Congress overwhelmingly supported the men and women of the medical community who are treating COVID-19 patients and working to find a cure to address this public health crisis with the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This critical relief was a necessary lifeline for hospitals to continue providing services to meet the demands of communities and helping our doctors, nurses and other medical professionals stay safe while providing care and treatment for patients.

Along with continuing to provide crucial resources like personal protective equipment, there is more we can do to support health care providers and ensure patients get reliable care. Listening to the needs of hospitals is incredibly important in the efforts to assist these vital facilities, protect the jobs they create and empower their ability to serve communities across Arkansas. 

I recently shared on the Senate floor some of the insights I heard from Arkansas’s health care community that Congress can deliver to directly help their mission.

Telehealth has become vital to providing effective care for patients during this public health emergency. Access to medical providers without leaving home offers convenience and safety against potential exposure to COVID-19. Having the option to access virtual doctor’s visits can be a challenge, particularly for rural areas where broadband connectivity is limited.

This emergency has amplified the need for enhanced broadband connection, but too often providers in rural communities are unable to meet the increased demand for telehealth services.

My colleagues and I have introduced legislation to help health care providers expand telehealth benefits and improve access to broadband. The Health Care Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act would bolster funding for providers in rural areas to increase connectivity. This bill would help more patients get the care they need.

We have a unique opportunity to see how the modifications and updates we made to health programs during this public health emergency can be beneficial in the long term.  

The CARES Act provided the Department of Health and Human Services with the authority to waive telehealth requirements for Medicare during this emergency. Providers and patients have adapted to this expansion of telehealth opportunities. We can continue to strengthen this access by making these services permanent.  

That’s why I joined a bipartisan group of senators urging our nation’s top health agencies to make permanent the changes to telehealth requirements for Medicare authorized in the CARES Act.

Last month, President Trump issued an executive order to improve health care in rural America by expanding telehealth services. The president’s action included a proposal to extend parts of the Medicare’s telehealth coverage. This is a step in the right direction. I look forward to working with the administration to implement a rule that will enhance the delivery of health care to Medicare patients.

These actions will help patients continue to get quality, reliable care and support the men and women who provide it. The work these frontline health professionals and their colleagues do has only become more difficult in light of this public health crisis. We are grateful for all they do and represent.