Tags: Coronavirus | Donald Trump | Healthcare Reform | Trump Administration | rural healthcare | telehealth | hospitals

Trump Signs Executive Order to Bolster Rural Healthcare, Telehealth


By    |   Monday, 03 August 2020 07:17 PM

President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order expanding access to telehealth services for 57 million Americans in under-served rural areas and elsewhere, after virtual visits soared during the coronavirus pandemic.

The order highlights a plan to create new ways to finance rural healthcare and propose a permanent extension for some virtual telehealth policies that were put in place during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, according to Politico.

Trump, who is counting on votes from backers in rural areas in the 2020 presidential election, said the new order would ensure that telehealth services expanded during the pandemic remained in place even after the public health emergency ended.

He also directed the Department of Health and Human Services to cut regulatory burdens and develop a new payment model that allows rural providers to waive some existing Medicare rules and ensure more predictable financial payments.

Americans in rural areas are more likely to die of five leading causes of death such as cancer and heart disease than their urban counterparts, the White House said, with transportation challenges, shortages of healthcare workers and a dwindling number of hospitals diminishing access to good care.

"Prior to the pandemic, telehealth was fine, but it wasn't anything raging, and I guess one of the only good things that we've gotten out of this horrible situation is that telehealth has been increased," Trump told reporters at the White House.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) showed virtual visits by phone or video soared to almost 1.7 million per week in the last week of April from 14,000 before the pandemic, according to the executive order.

The numbers have stayed high, even after in-person visits resumed in May, a sign of growing acceptance of virtual service.

Trump also called for officials to develop within 30 days a specific plan to boost investment in the communications infrastructure needed to boost rural healthcare, and a separate report on ways to improve overall healthcare in rural areas, reduce maternal deaths and improve mental health.

"Telehealth can never fully really replace the gold standard of in-person care, but it can certain do is complement in-person care," Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma told reporters.

The pandemic vastly altered how people access their doctors. About 43% of health centers offered telehealth services in 2018, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Now more than 90% of facilities offer them, "and about half of health center visits during the pandemic have been virtual," HHS Secretary Alex Azar wrote in an op-ed last week.

This executive order comes on the heels of several other healthcare orders Trump has issued recently. He has signed orders to cut drug prices and taken other steps in an effort to protect Americans when it comes to healthcare. Last week, the Trump administration released a report on surprise medical bills and asked Congress to work together to pass consumer protections.

One federal health official said the rural health changes should not be viewed as an overhaul for Obamacare. Three officials added that the administration does not have plans to imminently release an Obamacare alternative.

Trump has said he will reveal a health plan of his own that would replace Obamacare later in August.

Under the executive order, the federal Medicare agency will use its authority to test new pilot projects that offer financial incentives for providers who deliver higher-quality care to patients. Administration officials say the new financial model will help keep rural hospitals open. The program will be optional, according to three sources.

Information from Reuters and Bloomberg were used in this report.

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Increasing access to healthcare in rural areas is the focus of an executive order that President Donald Trump signed Monday.
rural healthcare, telehealth, hospitals, executive order, obamacare
Monday, 03 August 2020 07:17 PM
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