Washington, D.C. (September 14, 2023)—Below is Ranking Member Raul Ruiz’s, M.D. opening statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic hearing assessing the impact of pandemic-era policies on the relationship between physicians and their patients.
Ranking Member Raul Ruiz, M.D.
Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic
Hearing on “Oh Doctor, Where Art Thou? Pandemic Erosion of the Doctor-Patient Relationship”
September 14, 2023
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The relationship between a patient and their doctor is sacred.
It is a cornerstone of health care delivery that is rooted in trust, empathy, and the oath to do no harm.
As a physician, it is something I deeply valued when I treated and cared for my patients in the emergency department.
And for our nation’s physicians who served on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, I know it is something they deeply value too.
And let me be clear: the physician-patient relationship is not one that occurs in spite of our government’s public health institutions.
Rather, it is a relationship that is complemented and fortified by the tireless work of public health officials and experts—particularly during times of crisis.
And now that we have emerged from the darkest days of this pandemic, we as lawmakers have a responsibility to continue equipping our nation’s doctors with the tools necessary to provide the highest quality care to patients—both now and in the event of a future crisis.
In order to do that, we must continue empowering collaboration between our physician and public health communities in our ongoing response to threats like COVID-19. We’ve seen what this collaboration can look like during the course of the pandemic.
For example, once COVID-19 vaccines became available, the Biden Administration and the physician community worked together to rapidly deploy them and increase their uptake—including through commonsense policies like vaccine requirements.
These public health measures, which were enacted in support and in consultation with physicians, allowed us to safely and responsibly reunite loved ones; reopen schools, businesses, and workplaces; save lives, reduce harm, and prevent additional hospitalizations.
In fact, dozens of distinguished medical groups and leaders have gone on the record in support of these pandemic-era policies, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and more.
So, thanks to the Biden Administration’s leadership in successfully rolling out the country’s largest vaccination program in history, we have been able to emerge from the depths of the pandemic.
And now, the work to keep COVID-19 at bay remains. We must continue working to preserve and expand access to treatments that ensure Americans can recover from COVID-19 with ease.
This includes antiviral therapies for which the Administration has successfully deployed thousands of “Test to Treat” sites and preserved widespread access—even after the conclusion of the Public Health Emergency.
Additionally, we must continue partnering with physicians to remove barriers that they and their patients may experience to treatments and medications that we know work and save lives.
Throughout the pandemic, the Administration’s weekly convening of clinicians across the country has equipped our nation’s providers with the resources and the latest information that they need to provide their patients with the best possible treatments and therapeutics.
And now, as we enter the fall and winter months when cases of COVID-19 and the flu are known to rise, our government’s public health officials must keep this line of communication open with patients and physicians to promote the highest quality of care.
We can achieve this goal by partnering with community-based organizations, especially those in underserved communities, to increase public health outreach and improve health outcomes from COVID-19
And most importantly, we must work to ensure that everyone—even the most rural and remote parts of the country—can get the care they need when they need it.
Over the last three years, we have made great strides in achieving this goal. In fact, last year, Congressional Democrats secured key provisions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 to advance equitable health care access.
This included maintaining telehealth flexibilities put in place during the Public Health Emergency to ensure that all Medicare beneficiaries—no matter where they live—are able to access vital telehealth services.
And let’s not forget the historic reforms under the Inflation Reduction Act that put more affordable care within reach for millions of Americans, capping out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare recipients and saving 14.5 million Americans hundreds of dollars a month on health care premiums.
As we begin today’s hearing, it is my hope that we can pursue a productive conversation about how we can work together—lawmakers and clinicians—to improve access to care, enhance trust between physicians and patients, and forge a stronger collaboration between physicians and public health officials that will fortify our nation from future threats.
As Ranking Member of this Select Subcommittee, my goal has always been and continues to be identifying forward-looking policies that protect the public’s health and leave us better prepared for the next pandemic.
So, after a long and productive district work period, I hope that today’s hearing puts us on the right path toward that goal.