Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Call for Telehealth Funding in Relief Package

August 10, 2020 by Reece Nations

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of lawmakers is urging funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program to be included in any upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation.

The FCC established the program in April 2020 to better provide health care support as the health crisis brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic intensified. In the final week of April alone, nearly 1.7 million fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries received telehealth services, according to HealthAffairs.

The roughly 13,000 weekly Medicare beneficiaries who received telehealth services before the pandemic pales by comparison. Medicare telehealth services provided by the program include therapeutic activities, acute nursing facility care and virtual check-ups.

In a letter addressed to congressional leaders, Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., noted the surge in demand for telehealth services from both patients and providers since the pandemic began. Spanberger introduced a bill in July with support from bipartisan co-sponsors that would make a supplemental appropriation of funds for the FCC’s telehealth program.

“Local providers in our districts report experiences that are in line with the national trend,” the text of the letter read. “In Central Virginia, for instance, one safety net hospital reported an average increase in telehealth visits of over 7,000% between March and June 2020. Avera Health, located in South Dakota, averaged 1,000 virtual visits per day through the month of April 2020, which represented a quick ramp up of their telehealth services.”

Spanberger’s bill would allocate an additional $200 million in funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, equal to the amount initially approved by congress in the CARES Act. While 5,200 health care providers applied to engage in the telehealth program, the FCC could only afford to fund 500 of those applicants.

The lawmakers who joined Spanberger and Johnson in signing the letter were: Reps. Bryan Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.; T.J. Cox, D-Calif.; James Baird, R-Ind.; Peter Welch, D-Vt.; Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.; Doris Matsui, D-Calif.; Ami Bera, D-Calif.; Sanford Bishop, D-Ga.; Cindy Axne, D-Iowa; Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas; Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y.; Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio; David Trone, D-Md.; Katie Porter, D-Calif.; Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.; and David Cicilline, D-R.I.

“Additionally, the benefits of telehealth, especially in long-term care facilities, are clear,” the lawmakers’ letter continued. “Telehealth reduces the spread of infection from outside asymptomatic carriers, reduces hospitalizations when the physician is unable to complete a face-to-face visit, and improves access to specialist visits without exposing the patient to infection.” 

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