WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce the Health Care Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act that would bolster funding for health care providers in rural areas for the expansion of broadband and telehealth services.
“Telehealth provides a critical avenue for Arkansans to access medical providers without an unnecessary trip to the doctor’s office. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the need for this connection to health services. This legislation will ensure more health care facilities are equipped with reliable, high-speed internet to better serve their patients,” Boozman said.
The COVID-19 pandemic 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 and hard-to-reach communities – do not have adequate resources to handle this surge in demand. This bill would ensure that these providers have the resources they need to improve connectivity and increase telehealth capacity.
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.
- Delay for one year the implementation of FCC rules that would severely impact support for some of the program’s most rural health care providers.
Boozman is joined in this bipartisan effort by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), Gary Peters (D-MI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Ed Markey (D-MA).
“Senators Schatz, Murkowski, Boozman, King, Peters, Sullivan, Cramer and Markey are right to focus on ways Congress can invest now to increase connectivity-based health care solutions during this emergency,” said Jonathan Spalter, President and CEO of the United States Telecom Association. “Investing in broadband powered telehealth can transform and expand access to vital health care services. Like the companion legislation introduced by Reps. Eshoo and Young in the House, this plan recognizes that all of our country’s hospital systems and health care providers – no matters their zip code – should have cutting edge broadband and digital technology to diagnose and treat patients.”
Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives last month and 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.
Last week Boozman, Schatz, Murkowski and King, sent a letter to congressional leadership urging inclusion of $2 billion in new funding for the RHC Program in the next coronavirus response legislation.
Boozman, a co-founder of the Senate Broadband Caucus, is a leader in fighting for increased access to high-speed internet in rural communities.