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Bilirakis Discusses COVID-19 and Other Healthcare Priorities with Top Federal and State Leaders

September 3, 2020
Press Release

Contact:  Summer Blevins



Bilirakis Discusses COVID-19 and Other Healthcare Priorities with Top Federal and State Leaders


Representative Gus Bilirakis met earlier today with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma and Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) Secretary Mary Mayhew about the impact of COVID-19 on seniors and the potential for telehealth innovations in West Central Florida.  Healthcare professionals from Baycare, Tampa General, HCA West Florida, AdventHealth and several long-term care facilities were also a part of the discussion.  “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 Congressman Bilirakis. 


The panel discussed how telehealth has been used throughout the pandemic to increase seniors’ access to quality healthcare, adding enhanced safety and convenience.  Prior to the pandemic, Medicare’s coverage of telehealth services was limited to treatments associated with opioid addiction.  Bilirakis emphasized bipartisan legislation he recently authored, the Enhance Access to Support Essential Behavioral Health Services (EASE) Act.  This critical legislation will improve the ability of vulnerable populations (seniors, children and the disabled) to access high quality mental health services.  Specifically, the EASE Act will permanently allow Medicare and Medicaid to reimburse for behavioral health services delivered via telehealth. “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 Congressman 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.”


Additionally,  Congressman Bilirakis followed up with Administrator Seema on a reimbursement issue, seeking to ensure that hospitals that treat nursing home patients with COVID-19 are able to do so sustainably.  There is currently a technical provision in CMS guidelines that prevents reimbursement for some patients who need to remain in hospital care beyond traditional guidelines due to a lack of safe discharge options.  “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.