WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger led the introduction of bipartisan legislation to maintain critical telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic and provide new funding to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) COVID-19 Telehealth Program.
Spanberger’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program Extension Act would provide an additional $200 million in funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, allowing healthcare providers the ability to stand up and maintain telehealth services in Central Virginia and across the country.
Her bipartisan legislation has received support from several Virginia healthcare providers and community-focused organizations, including:
- VCU Health System
- Virginia Rural Health Association
- Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics
- Remote Health Solutions
- Central Virginia Health Services, Inc.
- Virginia Health Care Association-Virginia Center for Assisted Living
- Virginia Community Healthcare Association
“Like many institutions across the nation, at the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic, VCU Health System’s telehealth program responded by growing at warp speed. From March to June 2020, we experienced an average increase in telehealth visits of over 7,000%; this growth was made possible by a number of immediate institutional investments, to include expansion of telehealth platforms, remote monitoring devices, tablets, and other technology. Unfortunately, despite applying for FCC grant funding in April, we have not yet received notice of an award and have recently learned that available federal funds have been exhausted,” said Dr. Peter Buckley, Interim CEO – VCU Health System, Interim Sr. Vice President — VCU Health Sciences, Dean — VCU School of Medicine. “Representative Spanberger astutely recognizes the radical shift in care delivery that will be with us through the duration of this crisis and beyond, and we are grateful for her sponsorship of this legislation.”
“COVID-19 has put the spotlight on the healthcare and technology inequities that restrict the quality of life for rural Americans,” said Beth O’Connor, Executive Director, Virginia Rural Health Association. “This legislation will serve to fill some of the gaps for the 34 million Americans who still lack access to adequate broadband.”
“The Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics commends Representative Spanberger for introducing this important bill. The critical additional funding it provides to the FCC Telehealth Program would help free clinics stand up robust telehealth programs, including remote patient monitoring, and thereby increase access to primary health care for vulnerable populations,” said Rufus Phillips, CEO, Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. “By bolstering the ability of the clinics to acquire telehealth technology, this bill would also enable them to more safely and effectively provide care to the underserved during the pandemic and help prevent the further spread of COVID-19 — especially among the African American and Latino communities that are being hit disproportionately hard by the virus.”
“With regard to assistance with Telehealth and FCC grants, CHCs are the front-line point of care for at-risk, vulnerable people, minorities, and essential workers. Telehealth became an important tool in caring for patients during the pandemic. Our patients benefited because it helped eliminate the transportation barrier many face unfortunately many struggled to access it for lack of resources to data signals or broadband access,” said Paula Tomko, CEO, Central Virginia Health Services, Inc. “As a result the most vulnerable often had to choose to go without healthcare or risk face-to-face visits when sheltering in place was widely recommended. To care for these individuals, especially during an historic viral pandemic, CHC telehealth services must be sustainable over the long-term. Our FCC application was to help us provide strong wireless access points for patients to use for telehealth visits with us in the parking lot to help reduce risk of infection to both staff and patients. In addition we were trying to acquire telemedicine equipment to help patients with follow-up appointments with specialty appointments with the larger health systems like UVA and VCU. In order for this to be sustainable FQHC’s, like CVHS-Louisa internet access needs to be readily available and reimbursement for Federally Qualified Health Centers needs to be allowed permanently, not just during a health crisis. That will help provide opportunities to improve equity in the health system.”
“We applaud Congresswoman Spanberger’s leadership in the fight against COVID-19 through the support of the deployment of telehealth solutions to address the needs of Americans living in rural communities,” said Adam Hardage, CEO, Remote Health Solutions, Midlothian, VA. “The Congresswoman’s supplemental appropriation legislation in support of the COVID–19 Telehealth Program at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an important step towards further adoption of telehealth in Virginia and other states. Telehealth solutions, and more specifically telemedicine kits that can remotely diagnose COVID-19 symptoms without a doctor needing to be present, are an important part of the solution to help stop the spread of the virus.”
“As Virginia’s long-term care facilities remain on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle, we’re proud to support legislation introduced by Rep. Spanberger that would improve access to critical services for our residents,” said Keith Hare, President & CEO, Virginia Health Care Association-Virginia Center for Assisted Living. “Increasing funding for the COVID-19 telehealth program authorized by the CARES Act would help alleviate some of the strain on our facilities while we continue to implement strict precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Given what we know about the voracious nature of the virus and asymptomatic carriers, improving access to telehealth services for long-term care residents will ultimately help protect the most vulnerable in our society by limiting outside exposure.”
“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.”
“On behalf of Valley Health System, a regional not-for-profit health system based in Winchester, Virginia and serving a 14 county area with a population of 500,000 people, we would like to lend our strong support for adoption of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program Extension Act to provide an additional $200 million in funding to support the availability of additional FCC grant funding for COVID-19 related telehealth services,” said Chris Rucker, Vice President, Valley Health System.
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 the close of applications for these telehealth 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.
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.