Rep. Nunes: Telehealth Is Key to the Future of Americans Health Care

April 28, 2021 — Health    — Hearing    — Opening Statements   

WASHINGTON – Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Republican leader of the Subcommittee on Health for the House Committee on Ways and Means, today kicked off a subcommittee hearing on telehealth, which serves as a critical lifeline for millions of American patients.

Key Takeaways:

  • American families deserve to keep the greater access and choice in health care they relied on to get through the pandemic.
  • Congress and the Trump Administration acted quickly to provide unprecedented flexibilities for telehealth in the early days of the pandemic.
  • The American people responded to those reforms: the national weekly average telehealth users jumped from 13,000 to 1.7 million.
  • Republicans believe there is bipartisan opportunity to expand the use of telehealth beyond the pandemic.
  • Republicans believe there is bipartisan opportunity for Congress to go even further by making expanded telehealth permanent.

Rep. Nunes’ remarks as delivered appear below.

Thank you, Chairman Doggett. I really appreciate you holding this hearing.

Today, we meet to discuss the future of a vital health care benefit and a critical lifeline for millions of patients: telehealth. CMS data shows that early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the national weekly average of telehealth users jumped from 13,000 per week to around 1.7 million. This dramatic increase partly stems from unprecedented increase in telehealth flexibilities provided by Congress and the Trump Administration during the COVID-19 emergency.   

Together, we waived geographic restrictions to benefit patients nationwide.  We removed originating site restrictions so they can use telehealth to communicate with their doctor from their home.  We expanded the range of services that are accessible via telehealth, and we increased the number of providers who can use telehealth to reach their patients.  We also increased technology options, which now include video conferences on a connected portal, FaceTime calls on an iPhone, and audio-only calls.

As a result, millions of beneficiaries—who traditionally have been restricted in Medicare—have received care via telehealth. 

Now, we face a policy turning point. Today, after Operation Warp Speed led to the development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines, over 230 million Americans have been vaccinated.  As even more Americans get vaccinated and the country emerges from this awful pandemic, what’s next for telehealth? 

Ways and Means Republicans believe telehealth is a powerful tool that can improve access to care, empower patient choice, and ultimately make our health care system more effective and efficient.  When we think about the future of the health care system—one that is personalized, portable, and pays for value—there is no doubt that telehealth must be a key component. 

For years, Congress has incrementally integrated telehealth into Medicare through a series of strategic investments. And now, the pandemic has allowed us to see and experience the positive benefits telehealth unleashed through the Medicare program and what they can deliver for patients.  It would be a missed opportunity to turn back now.

This does not mean telehealth is perfect.  There are still barriers to overcome.  We know the Congressional Budget Office has historically scored telehealth bills at cost.  We must also be vigilant for waste, fraud, and abuse.  And we must realize that while telehealth expands access to care for many people, some seniors though face obstacles such as a lack of access to a reliable internet connection or difficulties operating the technology.  I believe that if we work together, these are all challenges we can overcome.

Telehealth has always been an area of bipartisan agreement, and I hope it will remain that way. Last Congress, I released a discussion draft charting a way forward for telehealth. Mr. Doggett, I want to thank you again for holding this hearing and I think there’s a lot of opportunity for bipartisan work. I know this is a huge issue that faces our whole country, especially during a public health emergency.

Hopefully this is the first step of many and look forward to hopefully having a bipartisan compromise and perhaps a markup soon.

I yield back. Mr. Doggett, thank you.

SUBCOMMITTEE: Health