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Updated: September 23, 2020

King sees telehealth as 'real shift,' opportunity for Maine

Angus king with a lobster-motif face covering File photo courtesy / Office of U.S. Sen. Angus King U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told Mainebiz that as telehealth continues to change the way health care works, Maine has an opportunity to become a hub for growth.

As telehealth gains traction during the pandemic, Mainebiz caught up with U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, to get his take on how the state can attract more innovative companies to the fast-growing niche and where he sees progress being made.

Mainebiz: You have previously cited regulation and lack of broadband access as barriers to further development of telehealth. What progress can you point to in either area at state or national level?

Angus King: Early in the pandemic, the congressionally passed CARES Act eased restrictions on telehealth during the pandemic, helping make the service widely available. This was a critical step, which helped ensure that patients can access their health care providers without taking on extra risk. These policies made a difference, and there’s no reason they have to end when the pandemic does. I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation that would work to make these expansions permanent, so the tool can remain available after this crisis has passed. This is an issue that transcends the parties — it’s simply about common sense.

However, in order for telehealth to have its maximum impact, we need to make sure we’re not leaving anyone behind. That’s why I’ve joined a bipartisan group to urge that any future economic stimulus include funding for rural telehealth infrastructure, including broadband deployment. This funding would not only put Americans back to work, but create an infrastructure that helps facilitate healthcare, economic growth and much more.

MB: How can Maine attract more innovative digital health startups in the fast-growing telehealth niche?

AK: Maine is home to world-renowned research institutions and key health care manufacturers; Maine has a strong history of remaining on the cutting edge of medical science. As telehealth continues to change the way health care works, Maine has an opportunity to become a hub for growth — if we make the right investments. That includes making sure that communities across Maine can access high-speed, affordable broadband, which is a necessity for any young company looking for a place to grow and thrive.

We also need to keep in mind that office environments have changed drastically due to this pandemic. As more and more companies adopt work-from-home policies, and employees gain the flexibility to work where they live rather than live where they work, Maine is perfectly positioned to emerge as a leader in remote work. But, again, this relies on making broadband more accessible and affordable. If I’m repetitive on this issue, it’s for good reason: Access to high-speed, affordable broadband is the key that unlocks Maine’s economic future.

MB: Is telehealth a fad or here to stay? 

AK: Before the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid estimated an average of 12,000 telehealth visits per week across the nation. In the months since March, that number has increased to more than 1 million per week. This is anything but a fad — it’s a real shift in the way that Americans access health care with enormous benefits for Maine patients and businesses. We should make sure it continues beyond this crisis.

Whether you’re a rural resident far from your health care provider, or a senior who wants to limit trips to the doctor’s office, or a simply someone who wants to connect with their physician in the midst of a busy day, telehealth makes it easier and more efficient to take care of your health care needs. This is a new tool that should be made a permanent part of American life, and I’m committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to build on this progress so Maine people from all walks of life can take care of their health.

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September 23, 2020

Telehealth should not be the norm---healthcare was always meant to be personal and should stay that way. Telehealth is a good option for those who have to travel a long ways to their medical provider or cannot get a timely appointment with their doctor, but it should not be a substitute to in person care.

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