Capitol Update: Rep. Susan Ruiz on the importance of telemedicine during COVID-19

"Providing effective and efficient health services, including telehealth service, will continue to be an issue in Kansas even after the pandemic subsides," said Democratic state Rep. Susan Ruiz, District 23, in her Capitol Update column. Above, Rep. Ruiz during the Post's 2020 candidate forum. 

Each week, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, Rep. Susan Ruiz and Sen. Mike Thompson are scheduled to send updates this week.

Below is the submission from Democratic State Rep. Susan Ruiz who represents District 23.

We have experienced so many devastating outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is very difficult to see anything positive. Nationally, our health care system was forced to become more innovative in how it delivers care.

Kansans are reporting increased levels of depression and anxiety. Gov Laura Kelly’s Emergency Order #20-26 called for “temporary relief from certain restrictions and requirements governing the provision of medical services.” It allowed for expanded use of telehealth. Many medical centers were using telehealth prior to the pandemic. This order, with the support of the legislature, allowed the provision, through telehealth, of reimbursable mental health treatment. Many mental health care providers reported this was a “game changer” for them.

The 26 Kansas Community Mental Health Centers (CMHC) are using telehealth to provide much needed client services. Many people are not aware the CMHCs are the only agencies providing community-based case management services for adults living with a severe mental illness and children experiencing an emotional disorder.

Being able to continue to receive this service means so much to them and their families. Telehealth has helped providers and clients decrease their exposure to the virus. In many instances, parents have avoided losing work time because they did not have to drive to an office. Those living in rural parts of Kansas also took advantage of telehealth for expanded mental health services.  

The provision of the COVID-19 vaccine means a decrease in the infection rate in the state. We are all ready to go back to living our pre-pandemic lives. This also means eventually the Governor’s Executive Order regarding telehealth will expire. HB2206, recently introduced in the Health and Human Services Committee, calls for making telehealth a permanent reimbursable service.

There is more work to be done on the bill before it comes to a vote before the legislature. For instance, many senior citizens have a landline telephone, so using telephones only would be a welcome amendment to the bill. Also, legislators are looking at payment parity, so telehealth reimbursement rates are the same as in-person rates.

Providing effective and efficient health services, including telehealth service, will continue to be an issue in Kansas even after the pandemic subsides. Legislators will continue to seek out innovative ways to ensure Kansans receive the care they deserve.