Gus Bilirakis Focuses on COVID-19‘s Impact on Seniors, Telehealth

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., met on Thursday with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma and Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) Secretary Mary Mayhew to focus on how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting seniors and the use of telehealth options across the region.

Bilirakis weighed in after the discussion which also includes leaders Baycare, Tampa General, HCA West Florida, AdventHealth and long-term care facilities.

“We know our seniors and those with underlying health conditions have been most greatly impacted throughout the pandemic and we have a duty to continue ensuring that their needs are addressed as resources and treatments are distributed.  A bipartisan group of my colleagues and I have been vocally advocating for Florida’s seniors to receive a fair share of treatments as they are dispersed from the federal stockpile.  Additionally, my colleagues and I want to be sure that as we develop and distribute a safe and effective vaccine, the needs of our most vulnerable citizens are prioritized,” said Bilirakis.

The congressman also used the meeting to showcase his “Enhance Access to Support Essential Behavioral Health Services (EASE) Act.”  According to the congressman’s office, the bill “will improve the ability of vulnerable populations (seniors, children and the disabled) to access high-quality mental health services” and “will permanently allow Medicare and Medicaid to reimburse for behavioral health services delivered via telehealth.”

Bilirakis introduced the bill back in December and it has the support of U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla. However, it’s been before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the U.S. House Ways and Means since it was introduced. There is no companion measure over in the U.S. Senate.

“As we work to fix our broken mental health system and ensure vulnerable populations have access to quality care, we must acknowledge barriers that exist and embrace the potential of using technology to bridge the gap,” said Bilirakis.  “Critical shortages within the field of psychiatry, lack of transportation and the stigma associated with seeking treatment are very real barriers that can be addressed through the use of telehealth services.  We’ve seen the progress that has been made in getting Medicare recipients the help they need during the pandemic using telehealth and it is only logical to permanently expand this option.”

Bilirakis promised to work with Seema on reimbursement to help hospitals working with nursing home patients.

“Doctors should be able to determine the appropriate level of care their patients need and have the confidence that their patients are safely being discharged- especially during this pandemic-and we must make sure that our healthcare system has the resources needed to enable it,” said Bilirakis.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

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