Johnson, Spanberger Introduce Bill to Strengthen Telehealth

Doctor Holding Cell Phone. Cell phones and other kinds of mobile devices and communications technologies are of increasing importance in the delivery of health care. Photographer Daniel Sone

U.S. Representatives Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.-AL) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) introduced the COVID-19 Telehealth Program Extension Act to appropriate additional funds to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) COVID-19 Telehealth Program authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

On April 2, 2020, the FCC announced the program and set the maximum award at $1 million. Due to the popularity of the program, on June 25th, FCC announced it would no longer accept applications from providers for funding from the program. On July 8th, FCC announced the release of the final tranche of approved funding applications from the original $200 million appropriation through the CARES Act. South Dakota health care providers were recipients of the program.

The COVID-19 Telehealth Program Extension Act would add an additional $200 million to the program. Last week, Johnson and Spanberger led 41 bipartisan members asking for additional data on the program and ways to strengthen our nations telehealth.

“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.”

“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.”

“Avera Health greatly appreciates Congressman Johnson’s and Congresswoman Spanberger’s support of telehealth through this bill. This program is essential for expanding the number of patients that can be served through telehealth at one time. Rural health care services are typically provided by a small community of physicians, emergency nurses, and specialty providers who serve the medical needs of local and area residents. Telehealth can help extend resources when demand puts a strain on local resources. Telehealth adds support to providers and patients with chronic illnesses, who are considered high-risk for developing severe cases of COVID-19. Through the enhanced telehealth access funded by the Wireline Competition Bureau’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, access to collegial support will be available for local providers in a variety of situations, such as when patient numbers surge, when providers are busy seeing patients elsewhere, or when local facilities are temporarily short-staffed.” Danielle Hamann, Avera Health Director of Public Policy

“Our coalition of Community Health Centers (CHCs) across South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming, called the Great Plains Health Data Network, were excited to receive $443,417 to support telehealth and technology-enabled health care from the Federal Communications Commission. Community Health Centers (CHCs), like many health care providers, were asked to dramatically shift their approach to health care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At our peak, about 45 percent of health care visits across health centers in the Dakotas were conducted using telehealth technology. Resources from the FCC will enable us to continue to use technology to meet patients where they are, utilize best practices for supporting preventive and coordinated care, and to keep patients safe during the pandemic.” Shelly Ten Napel, CEO of the Community HealthCare Association of the Dakotas

“The rising importance of telehealth services is particularly important in our rural areas,” said Rick Shinn, Director of Government Affairs, Virginia Community Healthcare Association. “We applaud Rep. Spanberger and her colleagues on moving forward to bring telehealth services into the mainstream of healthcare.”

Click here to read the full bill text.

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