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Axios' health care editor Sam Baker (left) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) Photo: Axios

The expansion in telehealth services to address the coronavirus pandemic needs to continue, Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said on Friday at a virtual Axios event.

Why it matters: COVID-19 has increased the need for access to care — as well as the risk of infection from traveling to a doctor's office for treatment. Telehealth has become a popular alternative for people seeking both mental and physical health care amid a shortage of providers across the country.

The context: Prior to the pandemic, health care reimbursement for telehealth appointments was restricted. The government has expanded reimbursement to match in-person visits since COVID-19 hit, enabling greater use of telehealth services.

What she's saying: Patients and providers have described telehealth as a lifeline, Smith said, especially in the need for mental health care, which has exploded during the pandemic.

  • Telehealth offers an avenue for addressing the uptick in depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, “not as a complete substitution for in-person care but as a way of making care more accessible.”
  • The ability to speak with providers in the privacy of one's own home especially helps those struggling with the stigma around mental health care, according to Smith.
  • Innovation in telehealth must continue after the pandemic ends, and “what we need to make sure is that those higher reimbursement rates on par with a personal visit don't go away,” Smith said.

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

NYC set to restart indoor dining in February, weddings in March

Outdoor dining in New York City in January. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that if the current coronavirus positivity in New York City holds, indoor dining will reopen at 25% capacity on Feb. 14, one of the busiest dining days of the year.

Why it matters: The forced closure of indoor dining in December caused major backlash, as New York's struggling restaurant industry had already been hit hard by pandemic restrictions. Restaurants will still be required to close at 1o p.m.