Spanberger, Johnson lead effort calling on FCC to strengthen support for telehealth providers

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Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD-AL) are leading led a 41-member, bipartisan effort calling on the FCC to provide greater certainty and support to healthcare providers standing up telehealth services, which are playing an increasingly important role in healthcare delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter sent to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the bipartisan group of lawmakers described how high costs and insufficient broadband internet connectivity prevent many rural patients and providers from fully accessing the benefits of telehealth.

The lawmakers called for more information to be made available to Congress regarding the COVID-19 telehealth program authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, as they expressed concerns that many eligible providers did not receiving an award from the initial funding package.

“We write to request more information about the funding made available to providers through the COVID-19 telehealth program authorized by the CARES Act. More and more patients are seeking care from providers over telecommunications technology rather than in a brick and mortar office or clinic,” states the letter. “We believe this shift has the potential to improve access to care for marginalized populations, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes by facilitating better monitoring of chronic health conditions.”

“In Central Virginia, we’ve seen firsthand how seniors, veterans, and families have been able to access both routine appointments and lifesaving care through telemedicine. Especially during this public health crisis, we need to keep our most vulnerable neighbors safe, and thankfully, many of our region’s healthcare providers use telehealth to deliver quality care without putting Virginians at greater risk,” said Spanberger. “Unfortunately, unreliable internet access and rising costs often prevent patients from accessing these telehealth services. That’s why I led 40 of my colleagues — Republicans and Democrats — in emphasizing the critical importance of telehealth. I’ve been encouraged by the strong support these innovative, cutting edge healthcare programs have received in Congress so far, and I hope Congress and the FCC will take bold steps that can widen the adoption of these programs and expand high-quality, affordable healthcare access across our rural communities.”

“Because of the CARES Act, hospitals around the country were able to apply for funding through the Federal Communications Commission to increase state access to telehealth services. This program permitted South Dakota hospitals to purchase telehealth equipment, ensuring our hospitals could meet the needs of patients virtually,” said Johnson. “If this program is working across the country like it is in South Dakota, we should reopen the application process to meet demand. I’m looking forward to hearing from the FCC on the viability of such an important effort to expand health care access to Americans.”

“We are grateful for a recent award by the FCC COVID-19 Telehealth program that is supporting telehealth equipment in order to expand our telehealth outreach to care for patients during the COVID-19 public health emergency,” said Dr. Karen S. Rheuban, Director, University of Virginia Center for Telehealth. “We support the program’s continuation, should additional funds be made available, and we appreciate Rep. Spanberger’s interest in this important program.”

“The rising importance of telehealth services is particularly important in our rural areas,” said Rick Shinn, Director of Government Affairs, Virginia Community Healthcare Association. “We applaud Rep. Spanberger and her colleagues on moving forward to bring telehealth services into the mainstream of healthcare.”

Click here to read the letter.

 


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