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Spanberger, Johnson Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Fund FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, Continue Delivery of Critical Healthcare Services to Rural Communities

July 23, 2020
Press Release
The COVID-19 Telehealth Program Extension Act Would Provide an Additional $200 Million for the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, Which Ran Out of Funding Earlier this Month

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08) today joined Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD-AL) in introducing bipartisan legislation to maintain critical telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic and provide much-needed funding to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA-32), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), and Peter Welch (D-VT-AL).

Demand for telehealth services is skyrocketing amid the pandemic. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), prior to the public health emergency, approximately 13,000 fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries received telemedicine per week. But in the final week of April 2020, nearly 1.7 million beneficiaries received telehealth services. Expanded use of telehealth has enormous potential to improve disparities in access to healthcare and health outcomes in rural areas, undeserved communities, and for many minority populations.

In April 2020, the FCC established the COVID-19 Telehealth program to support healthcare providers’ provision of telehealth services needed to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 crisis. However, last month, the FCC announced that it would stop accepting applications for awards. And earlier this month, the FCC announced that all approved funding had been distributed, meaning many eligible providers and telehealth projects are no longer able to apply for or receive federal support.

To give providers the ability to maintain telehealth services, the COVID-19 Telehealth Program Extension Act would provide an additional $200 million in funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. This funding level is equal to the amount initially passed by Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act earlier this year.

“During a public health crisis, families, seniors, and veterans need to have reliable access to their doctors and caregivers. Telehealth has provided a solution for thousands of Central Virginians to receive the high-quality care they need, while still taking precautions to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19,” said Spanberger. “Telehealth has clearly demonstrated its importance and its popularity during the pandemic, and our COVID-19 Telehealth Program Extension Act recognizes the role this technology should continue to play as we see a resurgence of the virus in communities across the country. I’d like to thank my friend and colleague Congressman Johnson for joining me in introducing this pressing legislation, and I look forward to moving this legislation forward and making sure rural patients and providers aren’t left behind.”

“South Dakota has seen the benefits of expanding telehealth firsthand,” said Johnson. “It’s easy, it’s quick, and it protects vulnerable populations seeking health care during this worldwide health crisis. South Dakota patients deserve quality care and our bill would provide the resources needed to strengthen additional telehealth programs in South Dakota and across the country.”                                        

Earlier this week, Congressman Raskin joined a 41-Member, bipartisan effort calling on the FCC to provide greater certainty and support to healthcare providers standing up telehealth services through the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program.

The legislation is supported by many national healthcare organizations.

"We support this legislation, as telehealth provides much-needed flexibility for long term care providers during this pandemic,” said Kim Zimmerman, Vice President, American Health Care Association. “This bill will allow providers to accelerate the use of technology and systems that can help provide care during this challenging time."

“Once the COVID-19 pandemic began, health centers throughout the country quickly pivoted to telehealth to continue providing care to patients. The FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program served as an incredibly helpful resource for those health centers that received funding to maintain and sustain their telehealth programs for their patients and their communities; however, many health centers that were eligible and applied for funding did not end up receiving a grant to support their telehealth program,” said Steve Carey, Chief Strategy Officer of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). “We are so grateful for the leadership of Representative Spanberger and Johnson for introducing legislation to provide an additional $200 million for the FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program – this will provide much needed support for those health centers that did not receive a grant before initial funds were exhausted.”

"Remote Area Medical (RAM) is deeply grateful to Rep. Spanberger and Johnson for introducing this bill,” said Caroline DeBerry, Chief External Affairs Officer, Remote Area Medical. “As the pandemic reached the United States, RAM recognized how important telehealth would become and quickly launched a new free telehealth program to continue our mission of helping those who need it most. Building a strong, resilient telehealth program takes funding and resources — and this legislation will ensure that the FCC Telehealth Program can empower organizations like RAM to provide these crucial telehealth services. One of our recent telehealth patients was from Michigan and had suffered from extremely painful inflammation since January. She had had challenges trying to get time off work to see a doctor and had no insurance. Having access to our free telehealth program helped her navigate her difficult work situation and get the services she needed."

“Telehealth has proven to be a vital tool in enhancing access to care during COVID-19,” said Krista Drobac, Executive Director, Alliance for Connected Care. “The Alliance for Connected Care applauds Representatives Spanberger (D-VA) and Johnson (R-SD) for their leadership in working to ensure additional FCC funding that will support access to the broadband and devices needed to provide these critical healthcare services.”

Click here to read the full bill text.

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