Representatives Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.-07, and Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., led a 41-member, bipartisan effort calling on the Federal Communications Commission to provide greater certainty and support to health care providers who offer telehealth services, according to a news release from Spanberger's team.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter
to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai describing 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 about the COVID-19 telehealth program that is authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. They also expressed concerns that many providers eligible did not get an award from the initial funding package.
Spanberger said she has seen Central Virginians benefit from telemedicine.
“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.”
Johnson said hospitals in South Dakota have been able to get access to telehealth services.
“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.”
University of Virginia Center for Telehealth director Karen S. Rheuban, M.D., said the center supports the contribution.
“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,” she said. “We support the program’s continuation, should additional funds be made available, and we appreciate Rep. Spanberger’s interest in this important program.”