Opinion: Insurance coverage for all forms of telehealth essential for equity, chronic-disease management in Maryland

Volunteer Shuron Abdullah, a retired registered respiratory therapist with three-decades of experience shares her advocacy around protecting telehealth, as told to April Dawn Shinske. Shuron is an American Heart Association volunteer and has been a Basic Life Support/Heartsaver instructor. 

“I’m cold. I’m cold.”

The pleading words of my late father-in-law, Pat, during in-person visits to his doctors have stayed with me, following his passing. Our preparations for his outings were always thoughtful. But at 95, no amount of bundling him up seemed to bring Pat complete comfort. Trips left him exhausted for days to follow.

Then, we began using telehealth–a Godsend–to meet Pat’s needs. Suddenly, everything became easier and more comfortable for Pat. He could remain warm resting in his bed, while we brought the phone or computer to him. Pat was able to visit with his regular doctor, and feel safe knowing he was in familiar, good hands. Especially as we worked through dementia and months of end-of-life care, telehealth became not only a better solution, it became essential to Pat’s wellbeing.

My experiences as a primary elder caregiver coupled with my three-decades as a registered respiratory therapist, community health volunteer and American Heart Association Basic Life Support and Heartsaver instructor and volunteer make me certain that telehealth is essential for our communities–most especially communities of color like my own, where adequate healthcare access is often limited.

We must act now to be sure all insurance providers cover audio-only and video telehealth options. We must support, and ask our legislators to support, bills HB123 and SB3 to protect telehealth for all. You can help by joining the American Heart Association’s You’re the Cure network and taking action, today.

There are many ways in which telehealth increases access to care. Telehealth eliminates the need for travel, especially for people who may not have access to personal transportation. For folks dealing with chronic diseases, people who rely on oxygen as an example, finding practical ways to readily access public transportation–and to afford it–may be nearly impossible. The pandemic has exacerbated these barriers to healthcare access. Telehealth by phone or computer allows people to practice prevention and chronic disease management under the guidance of qualified healthcare professionals, reducing strain on the need for emergency care during this critical moment and beyond. The elderly and those nearing end-of-life are especially positively impacted by access to telehealth.

If you need a reason to support access to audio and video telehealth, I ask you to recall my father-in-law, Pat, and the many like him. We can’t leave our most vulnerable community members in the cold when it comes to access to healthcare–telehealth brings prevention, chronic-disease management, and wellbeing to the warmth of home.

Please Join You’re the Cure to begin taking action and contacting your lawmakers today.

-Shuron Abdullah

Bowie, MD

See more from Shuron about why it is so important to protect insurance coverage for all forms of telehealth in Maryland:

Telehealth critically-important for chronic-disease management

Telehealth essential tool for eldercare

Telehealth benefits patients on oxygen

Telehealth fosters access and equity for vulnerable