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Sewell sponsors bipartisan legislation to expand telehealth services for seniors

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (via Office of U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell)

Congress members Terri Sewell, D-Alabama; Jackie Walorski, R-Indiana; Ron Kind, D-Wisconsin; Tony Cárdenas, D-California; and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania, on Wednesday introduced the bipartisan Ensuring Parity in MA for Audio-Only Telehealth Act.

This legislation is designed to help ensure Medicare Advantage enrollees who cannot access the video component during telehealth visits are able to access care through audio visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since the COVID-19 outbreak, an increasing number of Americans have been relying on telehealth services to access the care they need and deserve,” Sewell said. “Utilizing telehealth services helps reduce the risk of exposure for both patients and health care workers, mitigating the spread of COVID-19. The Ensuring Parity in MA for Audio-Only Telehealth will allow those enrolled in Medicare Advantage to access audio as well as video telehealth services to ensure they are not forced to forego critical care during the pandemic, as many of our seniors live in rural areas without access to broadband speeds that support video connections.”

To help facilitate the use of telehealth among MA patients, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has provided flexibility to allow health care providers to offer telehealth services under MA plans. However, this guidance requires that the encounters include a video component, which is not an option for many patients. Low-income and rural patients, for example, may have trouble accessing technology or broadband services supporting video communications.

Additionally, seniors or at-risk populations may have physical limitations that prevent them from using video communications. For these patients, an audio-only telehealth visit may be the only option besides foregoing needed care.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, older Americans and enrollees in Medicare Advantage have been utilizing telehealth services to access care they need. In many instances, telehealth services can help to reduce the risk of exposure for both vulnerable patient populations, like seniors, and health care workers,” Fitzpatrick said. “I am proud to support this bipartisan legislation to make sure that seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage, who may be limited to an audio-only telehealth visit, have more options and can continue to safely receive the care they deserve throughout this public health emergency.”

The Ensuring Parity in MA for Audio-Only Telehealth Act will allow providers to offer audio-only telehealth services to MA enrollees, providing them with the resources necessary to adequately care for their patients.

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“As Americans adapt to this new reality of social distancing, remote working, and telecommunicating, it is imperative that our laws reflect the changes of this time,” Cardenas said. “Millions of seniors rely on Medicare Advantage for critical life-saving services, and as the risk for elderly Americans remain high during this pandemic, we must ensure that they have access to telehealth services. This commonsense legislation makes it easier for our seniors to access these services while reducing risk of coronavirus exposure and will, ultimately, save lives.”

“Especially during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s important that health care is affordable and accessible,” Kind said. “Many Wisconsinites have relied on telehealth services throughout the pandemic to stay healthy and access the care they need. However, those who cannot use a video component during telehealth visits are currently being left behind. It’s important that we ensure all Wisconsinites are able to access these services, which is why I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this legislation.”

This legislation also ensures that providers will be adequately compensated by requiring MA plans to reimburse them for audio-only telehealth visits as if they were in-person visits unless both parties have agreed to a separate payment policy.

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“Doctors and patients have been relying on innovative telehealth services to ensure access to high-quality care despite office closures and extra precautions for high-risk patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Walorski said. “However, even though CMS has provided additional flexibility, many Americans in rural and low-income communities still face challenges using the necessary video technology. That’s why I’m cosponsoring this commonsense, bipartisan measure to ensure Medicare Advantage patients can get the care they need by removing barriers to providing diagnoses through audio-only telehealth services.”

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Ivey urges Alabamians to complete census or risk losing federal funding, seat in Congress

Micah Danney

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Gov. Kay Ivey urged all Alabama residents to complete the 2020 census before the Sept. 30 deadline in a 30-second video released on Friday.

In the video, Ivey said, “Complete your 2020 Census today. We only have until Sept. 30th. Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities.

“It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail. Be counted – if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”

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Alabama Democratic Party: Mitch McConnell, Senate GOP are playing politics at the expense of families

Brandon Moseley

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Mitch McConnell speaks at a conference
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference. (Via Gage Skidmore/Flikr)

The Alabama Democratic Party this week released a statement blaming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Senate Republicans for the inability of the two parties to come together to pass a bipartisan coronavirus aid bill before adjourning for the August recess.

“We are furious. You should be too. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are once again playing politics at the expense of Alabama families,” the Alabama Democratic Party wrote in an email to its donors and supporters. “Mitch McConnell waited over two months after the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act to begin negotiations on a new relief package. He knew full well that many of the programs that Americans have relied on during this crisis would expire at the end of July. Now, many Alabama families are in dire straits and facing evictions. As Senator Doug Jones said, ‘this is completely inexcusable.'”

Negotiations on a deal failed Thursday night, and Trump responded to the impasse by passing a series of executive orders to extend benefits for the unemployed and provide a break from payroll taxes.

“The President’s executive order is a thinly veiled attempt to fulfill his promise of cutting Medicaid and privatizing Social Security,” the Alabama Democrats responded to the President’s actions. “His payroll tax collection moratorium also leaves open the possibility that the taxes may need to be paid in a lump sum next year. We need a bipartisan solution from the Senate, not political stunts, and hollow executive orders.”

House Democrats wanted a $3.4 trillion stimulus while the Republicans want to limit it to just $1 trillion.

“Tell Senate Republicans to extend unemployment benefits to 600 dollars weekly by signing our petition,” the Alabama Democratic Party wrote. “Alabama workers, displaced by the pandemic, should be able to provide for their families and pay their bills. Tell Mitch McConnell to quit playing games and act now.”

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Alabama Arise calls Trump unemployment order “Band-Aid over a gaping economic wound”

Micah Danney

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President Donald Trump answers a reporter’s question during a news conference Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

An Alabama nonprofit that advocates for low-income residents says that President Donald Trump’s executive actions to extend federal aid to Americans affected by the pandemic falls far short of what is needed.

“These executive actions put a Band-Aid over a gaping economic wound,” Chris Sanders, communications director for Alabama Arise, said in a statement on Tuesday. “They don’t stem the tide of evictions or extend rental or mortgage assistance to help people stay in their homes. They don’t increase SNAP assistance to help millions of struggling families keep food on the table. And they don’t provide federal relief to help states avoid layoffs and cuts to education, Medicaid and other vital services.”

Sanders noted that weekly federal aid to people who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic would drop from $600 to $300, with states required to contribute another $100. That would be an undue burden on “cash-strapped” states like Alabama that have lost significant tax revenues, Sanders said.

The aid would only last a few weeks without new legislation, he added. Sanders said Congress could eliminate that uncertainty by extending the $600 weekly unemployment aid into 2021.

Trump’s orders, announced by the White House on Saturday, were meant to bypass a stalemate in Congress over pandemic-related benefits. They are expected to face legal challenges, which Sanders noted they may not survive.

“Even if they would, they’re inadequate to address the size and scope of suffering across Alabama and across our country,” he said. “There’s simply no replacement for a bipartisan relief package. Congress must step up quickly to ease the suffering and help struggling families make ends meet.”

Alabama Arise calls itself a coalition of congregations, organizations and individuals united in a belief that poverty in Alabama is a result of public policy. It promotes policies it says can improve the lives of residents with low incomes.

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Jones: Senate should not have left D.C. without deal on COVID relief bill

“The Senate never should have left D.C. without passing a deal to extend emergency unemployment and eviction moratoriums, to provide funding for schools to reopen safely, and to create a national testing and contact tracing plan,” Jones said.

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Doug Jones during a live streamed press briefing. (VIA OFFICE OF SEN. DOUG JONES)

Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones said that the Senate should not have left Washington D.C. without a deal on a coronavirus aid bill. Instead, the Senate should have stayed and worked until a deal was reached.

Negotiations between the two sides broke down late Thursday night when the White House refused Democratic demands that the aid package be $3.4 trillion instead of $1 trillion.

“The Senate never should have left D.C. without passing a deal to extend emergency unemployment and eviction moratoriums, to provide funding for schools to reopen safely, and to create a national testing and contact tracing plan,” Jones said in a statement on social media. “We need to come together and negotiate a deal ASAP.”

The White House blames congressional Democrats and their insistence on such a massive package for the failure to pass a deal.

“Democrats in Congress wasted extensive negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about an expanded Coronavirus relief package,” the White House wrote in a statement. “Democrat leaders were not only willing but determined to withhold vital assistance for families to use it as a political bargaining chip for their radical agenda.”

Since Congress didn’t act, Trump did, the White House said.

“He issued four major executive actions over the weekend,” the White House statement reads. “The first provides out-of-work Americans with $400-per-week in supplemental aid on top of existing unemployment benefits. The second assists renters and homeowners who are struggling to pay their lease or make their mortgage payment. The third defers payroll taxes for employees making $100,000 or less per year through the end of the year. The fourth suspends federal student loan payments and sets interest rates to 0 percent through the end of the year.”

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Jones dismissed Trump’s orders as being more for show than for actual benefit of the American people.

“By signing these executive orders that are more for show than actual help for the American people, President Trump has confirmed that his administration has not acted in good faith and had no intention of reaching bipartisan agreement on legislation that would benefit all Americans,” Jones said. “The Senate, which absolutely should not have recessed without passing a relief package, needs to immediately return to Washington to pass legislation that provides adequate support for the Americans who are suffering as a result of this virus as well as our economy.”

Jones faces a difficult re-election battle against former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville. Jones narrowly defeated former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in a 2017 special election. Jones is the only Democrat to win a statewide election in Alabama since 2008.

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