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Rural telehealth extension reintroduced in Congress

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Trying to make it permanent, a North Carolina congressman and three others in Congress have filed legislation to extend telehealth services for federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics.

U.S. Rep. Dr. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., is a practicing urologist, where home is rural eastern North Carolina. He was joined in the reintroduction by Reps. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, Derrick Van Orden, R-Wisc., and Troy Nehls, R-Texas.

Medicare claims rendered by federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics soared to 35.9% in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic era. Millions in underserved communities got access to behavioral health and non-behavioral health services, a release says.

Beyond convenience, telehealth has produced cost savings for taxpayer and patient alike. A 2020 study from the National Library of Medicine found reduced costs in several countries that used telehealth. One instance in the U.S. found teledermatology practice had an hourly operating cost of $361 versus $456 for conventional care.

The flexibilities allowed by an appropriations bill of 2023 will expire Dec. 31, 2024.

“After practicing medicine in rural eastern North Carolina for the last 25 years, I know that many patients have to travel hours to access health care,” Murphy said in a release. “They face significant burdens in cost as well as time away from work. Telehealth services are critical for these rural communities who live far from clinics and hospitals.

“We saw how beneficial this valuable service was for folks during the pandemic and it should continue to be available for all Americans. I’m proud to spearhead this effort and am committed to advocating for this commonsense policy alongside my colleagues.”

Before politics, Burgess had a 20-year career in obstetrics and gynecology after graduating from the University of Texas Medical School. He said technology innovations “improving by the day” make telehealth the next step in Americans’ wellbeing.

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