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Dr. Dale Toney: As pandemic continues, access to health care more vital than ever for Kentuckians

Posted November 10, 2020

Dr. Dale Toney Op-Ed in Northern Kentucky Tribune

Insurance plays a vital role for everyone in our health care system, whether you’re enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, an employer-sponsored plan or one off the marketplace. But what happens if insurers refuse to cover the vital services you need to manage your health and connect with your doctors?

This has been a growing concern among patients and their physicians for years but has escalated as we continue to confront COVID-19. A recent opinion piece from the Kentucky Association of Health Plans (KAHP) doesn’t do much to alleviate these fears, and quite frankly, couldn’t come at a worse time.

As people across the country inundate lawmakers with concerns over losing protections that ensure coverage for preexisting conditions, insurers seemingly want to turn back the clock and make health insurance operate like the wild west. Such protections have become a valuable part of insurance coverage today and should not be thrown out to enrich the already substantial coffers of insurers, especially when we’re still amid a global pandemic.

Instead, we should be focused on bringing some good out of this terrible situation and modernizing health care to better meet the needs of people everywhere. Telehealth, for instance, has become a lifeline in this time of uncertainty. The Kentucky Medical Association has been reminding community members not to delay care, and telehealth can help. And, with our state’s positivity rate continuing to trend upward, we need to ensure it stays accessible.

Even once we move past this pandemic, telehealth will remain a staple of our health care system, as it gives Kentuckians an easy, convenient way to connect with their medical professionals. Whether you’re someone without access to transportation, living in a rural area or a busy working parent, telehealth is a great option when making it to your doctor’s office just isn’t feasible.

Of course, there will always be reasons to see your physician in-person—receiving your annual flu shot and other important immunizations, for example. But, in many scenarios, telehealth can be an effective alternative for Kentuckians across the commonwealth.

A recent KMA member survey noted a dramatic increase in appointments conducted via telehealth since the beginning of the pandemic. Approximately 74 percent of physicians indicated using telehealth, despite only 10 percent having used the service on a regular basis before COVID-19, with a majority planning to continue offering the service.

While we understand this pandemic has brought financial uncertainty for organizations and businesses across the board, we cannot forget why health insurance exists in the first place: to help patients access the care and treatments they need. Telehealth is now an important part of that equation.

We were encouraged by the positive changes we saw from insurers in response to the pandemic, including greater coverage for telehealth. Now, we are asking our elected officials in Frankfort to ensure health plans don’t walk back a good thing that has made a big difference in access to care. None other than KAHP itself said as much in another editorial penned by their executive director earlier this year when she stated:

“Even in normal circumstances, telehealth is a useful tool for many Kentuckians, especially those who do not live close to specialists or who have transportation obstacles. But in times like these, the benefits are even more significant. They have reduced the number of people in waiting rooms and the risk of exposure for health care professionals.”

Now more than ever, we should be doing all we can to encourage Kentuckians to stay on top of their health and connected with their physicians and other medical professionals. Kentucky physicians remain committed to delivering care so that our patients stay healthy and safe, just as we have for the last eight months. That’s a goal all of us in the health care industry should be working toward.

Dr. Dale Toney is president of the Kentucky Medical Association.

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