House lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to expand telehealth services

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

Reps. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooTime for Congress to make a down payment to prevent future pandemic tragedies Hillicon Valley: US has made progress on cyber but more needed, report says | Democrat urges changes for 'problematic' crypto language in infrastructure bill | Facebook may be forced to unwind Giphy acquisition Eshoo urges Pelosi to amend infrastructure bill's 'problematic' crypto regulation language MORE (D-Calif.) and Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungRepublicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden suspends Arctic oil leases issued under Trump |  Experts warn US needs to better prepare for hurricane season | Progressives set sights on Civilian Climate Corps Overnight Energy: Biden admin backs Trump approval of major Alaska drilling project | Senate Republicans pitch 8 billion for infrastructure | EPA to revise Trump rule limiting state authority to block pipelines 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 TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal 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.