Schatz Urges Congress for $2 Billion To Expand Telehealth Services During Pandemic

May 11, 2020, 8:06 AM HST · Updated May 11, 8:06 AM
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Today, US Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) led a bipartisan group of senators to urge the leadership of both the Senate and House of Representatives to include $2 billion in the next coronavirus relief package to help health care providers expand telehealth services by improving their access to broadband.

“The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically increased the need to expand telehealth,” the senators wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif). “It is imperative that Congress act to ensure our front-line responders have the tools they need to combat this deadly virus.”

Supporters of the bill say telehealth allows health care providers to treat patients safely without putting themselves or their patients at risk of contracting COVID-19 and has been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, many providers – especially in rural and hard-to-reach communities – lack the resources to handle this increase in demand for telehealth services.

The senators are calling for $2 billion in additional funding to the Rural Health Care Program, the only federal program that supports broadband deployment at urban and rural health care provider locations. Senators say these new funds “would expand the RHC Program to support non-rural and mobile health care providers, eliminate administrative red tape slowing down the process of obtaining broadband connectivity, and provide more resources to help providers increase their broadband capacity.”

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The coronavirus response legislation has included multiple provisions from Schatz’s bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act (S. 2741). These measures, he said, have helped increase access to Medicare telehealth services during the current public health emergency, “allowing more patients to receive care at home, while freeing up health resources and limiting the spread of infections in emergency rooms and hospitals.”

In addition to Senator Schatz, the letter was signed by US Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Angus King (I-Maine), and John Boozman (R-Ark.).

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