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House lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to expand telehealth services

House lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to expand telehealth services
© Greg Nash

Reps. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Democrats urge tech giants to change algorithms that facilitate spread of extremist content Bottom line MORE (D-Calif.) and Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungHouse Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Five Republicans vote for bill to decriminalize marijuana House passes sweeping reform bill to decriminalize marijuana MORE (R-Alaska) introduced legislation Friday to boost telehealth services amid the coronavirus pandemic.  

The Healthcare Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act would infuse $2 billion into the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rural health care program to expand remote treatment options and ensure high quality internet connection at health care facilities.

Telehealth services help doctors work with patients diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, without putting themselves at risk.

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It also helps providers care for high-risk patients who might contract the disease if forced to leave their homes to visit doctors.

“The coronavirus has only increased the need for high-quality and reliable internet connectivity as healthcare is increasingly delivered through telehealth and healthcare professionals depend on broadband for every aspect of their operations," Eshoo said in a statement.

"The Healthcare Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act takes crucially needed steps to ensure that healthcare providers in Alaska and across the country have the internet access they need to keep our communities safe," Young said.

The FCC's Healthcare Connect Fund Program currently subsidizes 65 percent of the cost of broadband for eligible public and nonprofit rural health care facilities, while the new legislation would boost the subsidy rate to 85 percent. It would also streamline some administrative requirements to receiving the subsidies.

The first coronavirus relief package signed by President TrumpDonald TrumpNYT: Rep. Perry played role in alleged Trump plan to oust acting AG Arizona GOP censures top state Republicans McCain, Flake and Ducey Biden and UK prime minister discuss NATO, multilateralism during call MORE last month included $200 million for an FCC telehealth program to combat the pandemic.

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A group of 48 health care organizations endorsed the new bill Friday and asked for it to be included in any upcoming round of coronavirus relief.

"No healthcare provider should have to cut back on its telemedicine offerings because it doesn’t have enough funding for its underlying broadband connection," said John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, one of those organizations.

The legislation is also backed by USTelecom, a trade association which represents telecom groups including AT&T and Verizon.

“This is a smart and targeted investment surge by Reps. Eshoo and Young and exactly what we should be doing during this public health emergency — finding ways to bring 21st century connectivity and more digital technology to all of our country’s hospital systems and healthcare providers — no matter their zip code," Jonathan Spalter, the association's president and CEO, said in a statement.