Averting a Telehealth Cliff
Bloomberg Businessweek|May 24, 2021
As legal relaxations on remote health care expire, supporters scramble to keep them
Carey Goldberg and John Hechinger

Video conferences have long outlived their charm, but one pandemic staple remains popular: the virtual doctor’s visit. Now politicians around the country are racing against deadlines to make sure their constituents aren’t forced back to in-person medicine if they don’t want it.

For months, Jim Des Marais, who has ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, has been video-calling with his specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital instead of making the exhausting three-hour-plus drive to Boston from his home in Vermont. For now, he’s still able to make the drive. “But that won’t last,” says Des Marais, a 60-year-old lawyer. ALS is a degenerative neurological disease. “There will be a point in time when my disease progresses, and traveling will be very difficult for me.”

Many telemedicine visits became legal because of emergency government measures early in the Covid-19 pandemic. States and the federal government swept aside some of the legal and insurance thicket that for years held back technological progress in the almost $4 trillion U.S. healthcare sector. Practicing medicine across state lines without all the usual licenses? Sure. Virtual Medicare visits? Fine. Charging the same for online visits as in-person? No problem.

In the last week of March 2020, telehealth visits surged 154% from the year before, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By the end of the year, a Harris poll found that roughly two-thirds of Americans would prefer to get at least some of their health care online.

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