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Medicare Telehealth expansion could be vital in COVID-19 outbreak

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

Courtesy of Diane Bernard

Public News Service

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With West Virginia reporting its first case of exposure to the new coronavirus this week, the use of telemedicine could be vital to keeping the state's older residents safe.

Stephen Davis, associate professor at the West Virginia University School of Public Health, is conducting a pilot program on telemedicine in the Mountain State. He says the Trump administration's expansion of telehealth for Medicare patients will help the state prevent high-risk individuals from being exposed to the virus in health-care environments.

"Telehealth will enable us to be able to deliver some type of health care without having to have some type of interaction with healthcare workers that, sadly, may be infected or become infected themselves," said Davis.

The new coronavirus seems to be hitting seniors especially hard. Davis says telehealth is crucial for West Virginia's aging population.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the number of West Virginians age 60 and over will increase 32% in the next 10 years.

Trump's announcement opens the telehealth doors to 10s of millions of new Medicare patients, many in remote areas. Davis' pilot is measuring the effectiveness of telehealth in rural West Virginia.

He points out that previously, the federal government had regional restrictions on reimbursements for Medicare remote services.

"Certainly at the federal level with Medicare, historically there were restrictions with regard to you had to be located in a very rural area," Davis said. "And so, this was a significant barrier, historically, to being able to more broadly offer telehealth services."

The administration is also encouraging states to expand the use of telehealth in their Medicaid programs for lower-income people.

More than 40 million people are enrolled in Medicare, some 15% of the U.S. population.

the use of telemedicine could be vital to keeping the state's older residents safe.

(Special to Branson Globe)

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