seema aapi

Seema Verma, Indian American Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, addressed a panel discussion organized by the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin on telehealth. She is seen here speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on April 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin held a two-hour long panel discussion via Zoom May 2 covering telehealth and a wide range of topics of importance to more than 300 doctors and the larger community regarding the challenges of the current COVID pandemic.

Telehealth is a critical response to the pandemic crisis, and the Trump Administration has taken it to unprecedented levels, Indian American Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told the doctors.

“Medicare recently expanded its coverage of telehealth services,” allowing beneficiaries to receive a wider range of healthcare services from doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility, she said.

Cautioning that “the war is far from over,” Verma acknowledged there is a decline in the number of cases. “CMS has acted swiftly to help 340 million people,” she said before praising the “sacrifices of the healthcare professionals across the nation who have helped to reduce the trend.”

In addition to Verma, the speakers included Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, AMA Board of Trustees; Dr. Sheila Rege, AMA Council on CMS; Dr. Humayun J. Chaudhry from the Federation of State Medical Board, and Mike Stinson from the Medical Physician Liability Association.

Chaudhry talked about the FSMB Pandemic Preparedness Task Force, established on Feb. 25, 2020, and its initiatives.

“The states and territories have shown extraordinary flexibility by temporarily waiving or modifying licensure requirements,” he said, noting that all the states have implemented temporary licensure changes for International Medical Graduates, allowing them to serve the people affected by the pandemic.

Stinson said the state of New York is ahead on the issue of Medical Professional Liability, offering healthcare protection on the Good Samaritan Provision, allowing all physicians practicing within the state to have protection against liability.

“We hope it expands to the whole nation,” he said. “While these emergency proclamations could expire after the pandemic is over, we are hoping to have it expanded beyond COVID.

Rege in her address said, “For me, Telehealth may have restored that intangible personal element. I see outpatients in their homes, surrounded by their families. So maybe telehealth is the secret sauce to restoring the joy of medicine. Four key events helped make this rapid change possible.”

AMA worked with CMS to instantaneously create new COVID 19 payment codes. During the pandemic, Medicare patients can have office visits, mental health counseling and preventive healthcare screenings and 85 additional services through telehealth.

“This needs to be made permanent after COVID. It will reduce unnecessary emergency room visits,” Rege declared.

Mukkamala concurred, saying that Medicare will pay for telehealth services at the same rates as in-person services, giving doctors and other medical professionals the opportunity to reserve their offices to treat those who truly require in-person care.

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