When the coronavirus outbreak first reached America, experts warned that a flood of new cases could push hospitals to the breaking point. Yet several months later, it is now clear that our early actions and months of sacrifice have prevented such an outcome. We have made real progress in flattening the curve, allowing hospitals to begin resuming elective procedures on a case-by-case basis.
Recent advances in technology and medical research have played a major role during this crisis. Continued investments in telehealth, testing, and vaccine development will be critical to overcoming COVID-19 and preparing for future health challenges.
In a time when many health facilities have cut down on non-emergency visits, telehealth has been pivotal in helping people connect with their health care providers. For years now, telehealth has allowed patients to consult a physician over the phone or through video – from the comfort and safety of their home. This is especially helpful to people in rural areas and communities located far away from health specialists. This revolutionary form of care has grown exponentially during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, Medicare patients have been unable to take full advantage of telehealth until recently. When Congress drafted the CARES Act, I worked to include provisions expanding Medicare coverage to include telehealth services. This has enabled millions of Medicare beneficiaries to access telehealth during the pandemic. I am now pushing Congress to make the provisions permanent by passing my CONNECT for Health Act. This legislation would help telehealth become a mainstay for Medicare beneficiaries over the years to come.
As important as our efforts have been in slowing the spread of COVID-19, true relief will come only when a vaccine or cure is found. The FDA is fast-tracking the development of a made-in-America vaccine, and about a dozen other vaccines are being tested worldwide. Some of the early results have been promising.
In the meantime, the U.S. government is ramping up testing efforts, which will enable healthy people to go back to work and resume their social lives safely. Recently the federal government awarded Mississippi $91 million to expand testing in our state. Nationally we have already seen a dramatic increase in testing, as daily tests have nearly doubled over the past month. But continued growth is needed to provide tests for hundreds of millions of Americans.
Beyond developing a vaccine and improving testing, we should expect to face more hurdles in our fight against the coronavirus. To address unforeseen challenges, I recently requested that the Trump Administration host prize competitions to spur innovation among private companies and researchers. I first began to champion these competitions in 2015 when I introduced the EUREKA Act. As a result of this law, three prize winners are now developing technologies to improve the lives of Alzheimer’s patients. In the same way, government should harness the power of American ingenuity to meet the challenge of COVID-19.
Our nation’s story has always been one of overcoming odds by thinking big and thinking outside the box. When faced with a challenge, we see opportunity. Americans invented the telephone, the automobile, the computer, and the vaccine for polio. Each new innovation has made our nation stronger and safer. I believe the coronavirus is one more occasion for American ingenuity to rise to the challenge.