U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) with his colleagues introduced the Health Care Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act this week. This bipartisan legislation would direct $2 billion to help health care providers increase their broadband capacity and expand telehealth services during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“The FCC’s Rural Health Care Program bolsters support for our health care providers’ connectivity needs,” said Senator Cramer. “By increasing this program’s funding, while streamlining the allocation process and allowing more flexibility for its implementation, our bipartisan Health Care Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act would increase access to telehealth for patients.”
The legislation is led by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) with Senators John Boozman (R-AR), Angus King (I-ME), Gary Peters (D-MI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Ed Markey (D-MA) joining Senator Cramer as original cosponsors.
“During this pandemic, telehealth services are helping families receive the critical health care they need,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill will provide much-needed funding to help hospitals improve their connectivity so they can care for more patients.”
“The Rural Health Care Program is an integral piece of providing quality healthcare to Alaskans in small, remote communities—many of which are not connected to a road system. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the demand for telehealth. Unfortunately, as a result, the Rural Health Care Program has already outpaced the funding it was allocated prior to the outbreak and telehealth providers are facing significant connectivity challenges in their effort to provide care,” said Senator Murkowski. “As we navigate the challenges of COVID-19, and ease the restrictions for telehealth use, the demand for this program will only continue to increase. This legislation is imperative to enable healthcare providers to increase their broadband capacity and expand their ability to provide healthcare to those in need.”
COVID-19 has dramatically increased the demand for telehealth services, allowing providers to treat patients safely without putting themselves or their patients at risk. However, many providers – especially in rural communities – do not have adequate resources to handle the surge in demand.
The Health Care Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act will:
- Provide $2 billion in additional support for the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program for the coronavirus response,
- Increase the subsidy rate for RHC Health Care Connect Fund participants during the pandemic, which they can put toward additional telehealth resources,
- Enable mobile and non-rural health care facilities to engage in telehealth during the pandemic under the RHC Program,
- Eliminate red-tape and streamline the program’s distribution of funding so that health care providers can quickly implement telehealth applications and treat patients faster, and
- Delay the implementation of FCC rules for one year that would severely impact support for some of the program’s most rural health care providers.
The bill, a companion to bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, has been endorsed by the United States Telecom Association, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, America's Communications Association, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, the National League of Cities, and the Fiber Broadband Association.