Harder, Stefanik Urge HHS Secretary to Extend Public Health Emergency

June 26, 2020
Press Release
Emergency Declaration Key to Telehealth Access

WASHINGTON – Representatives Josh Harder (CA-10) and Elise Stefanik (NY-21) today led a bipartisan letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Director Alex Azar urging him to extend his declaration of a public health emergency concerning the Coronavirus Pandemic. The emergency declaration has expanded eligibility for patients to receive routine health care through telehealth and telephonic care, allowing vulnerable and high-risk patients to avoid in-person visits to hospitals and health centers where they could be exposed to the Coronavirus. The emergency declaration is set to expire July 25, even as cases are on the rise. The extension is needed to continue care for vulnerable, high-risk populations and to prevent them from unnecessary exposure as our communities continue on the path toward safely reopening. 

“Without expanded telehealth access, people from the Valley who live with chronic health conditions will be stuck between a rock and hard place – either,  getting care in person and needlessly exposing themselves to a highly infectious disease, or having to forgo care,” said Rep. Harder. “This is a common sense, bipartisan step to keep the most vulnerable members of our community safe during this pandemic.”                                         

“With the public health emergency declaration set to expire one month from today, access to telehealth care is in jeopardy,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, North Country patients have had access to increased telehealth services, so that non-COVID-19 related health concerns are not ignored. This is particularly important for my district, which is one of the largest constituencies of seniors in the country – the most vulnerable population after exposure to the virus. I urge Secretary Azar to extend the public health emergency declaration in the interest of public health.”

“Telehealth has proven to be pivotal for many FQHC patients during the current pandemic, ensuring they receive the care they need while reducing the risk of infection and the further spread of COVID-19,” said Tony Weber, CEO Golden Valley Health Centers. “It is important to expand Telehealth services not only during emergencies but also on a permanent basis, as it has proven to be an effective and convenient health care access method for patients.”

Representative Harder is a leader in the effort to increase telehealth and access to care. He’s introduced the bipartisan STAR Act to provide support for the creation of new telehealth infrastructure and the bipartisan Stopping Doctor Shortages Act which could bring an estimated 10,000 new doctors to California.

The text of the letter is below and an original copy is available here

 

Dear Secretary Azar,

We are writing regarding your declaration of the public health emergency as a result of the consequences of COVID-19, and subsequent renewal of that declaration in April of this year. Federal departments and agencies, including Health and Human Services, have issued waivers, flexibilities, and guidelines tied to the declaration. Many of these are essential for healthcare providers in rural and underserved areas to continue serving their communities and to stave off site closings and staff layoffs. Because of the continued presence and effects of the coronavirus on our health care system, we urge you to renew your declaration before it expires next month.

When COVID-19 started spreading, health centers across the nation rushed into action, building the programs and infrastructure needed to deliver telehealth services to their patients. Working with the administration, health centers were successful in moving forward with telehealth and telephonic care, more than doubling the number of health centers using telehealth or telephonic services. Their work and your emergency declaration have brought safety to countless patients who would have had to paradoxically risk their health to receive medical care.

For the duration of the emergency, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has made it much easier to provide services over telehealth to patients using Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Importantly, patients can now receive telehealth care in their homes, a crucial step for limiting the spread of the coronavirus. Providers can also deliver telehealth services to new patients who haven’t yet had an in-person visit, an important flexibility for patients seeking care for the first time, and bill CMS for video and audio telehealth services as though they were provided in-person.

Health centers – which serve patients disproportionately affected by chronic health conditions – need this renewal to continue care for vulnerable, high-risk populations to prevent them from unnecessary exposure as our communities continue on the path toward reopening. Accordingly, we urge you to renew your declaration of a COVID-19 public health emergency and support health centers’ essential work to provide care to underserved communities.