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ROGER WICKER: Mississippi continues to earn national praise

On Oct. 5, the University of Mississippi Medical Center received a national designation solidifying its place as a telehealth leader. UMMC was named a prestigious Telehealth Center of Excellence by the Health Resources and Services Administration at the Department of Health and Human Services. The award formally recognizes UMMC as a national standard-bearer for telehealth advancements and research.

I had the privilege of joining Trump administration officials, members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation and UMMC leaders for the Telehealth Center of Excellence announcement. The access to care that UMMC has provided since it began its telehealth program in 2003 is truly remarkable. The medical center, recognizing the unique health-care challenges in our state, has sought to find workable solutions for better patient outcomes. That persistence has paid off, leading to pioneer work in the Mississippi Delta that helped prevent emergency room visits for patients who suffered from uncontrolled diabetes.

Through its harnessing of technology, UMMC now collaborates with 200 service sites in 68 of our 82 counties and has logged more than half a million telehealth visits. It exemplifies what a Telehealth Center of Excellence should be – a place that has not only succeeded in providing care to underserved communities but continues to look for ways to build on its success.

Like UMMC’s telehealth program, our state’s community health centers are also working to facilitate access to health care for our underserved and vulnerable populations, especially in rural areas. These centers are found across the state, serving some 300,000 Mississippians.

I have consistently supported community health centers, recently cosponsoring a bill in the Senate that would reauthorize the Community Health Center Fund for the next five years. Without Congress’s reauthorization of this fund, community health centers in thousands of locations nationwide would close, medical staff would lose their jobs and millions of Americans would no longer have access to one of the most cost-effective ways of receiving primary care.

The same effort to protect our community health centers should be extended to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This program – which states can tailor to match their specific needs – provides comprehensive health insurance to approximately nine million low-income children in our country. Although Mississippi’s CHIP funding is expected to last until March of next year, congressional action is needed to ensure the future stability of the program.

The reauthorization of both programs is already underway in the House and Senate. The bills, which have bipartisan support, are expected to become law before any funding cuts take effect. The Senate, meanwhile, has taken steps to allow more Americans to benefit from telehealth services, passing the “CHRONIC Care Act” unanimously on September 26. The bill includes several measures I authored with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) to remove restrictions on reimbursement for telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries. If UMMC’s accomplishments in telehealth are any indication, technology is changing the future of health care, and our state is at the forefront.