Spanberger, Johnson Lead Bipartisan Push for Congress to Include Critical Telehealth Funding in COVID-19 Relief Package

Aug 06, 2020
Healthcare
Press

Last Month, Spanberger & Johnson Introduced Bipartisan Legislation to Maintain Funding for the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD-AL) today led a bipartisan effort calling on Congress to include critical funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) COVID-19 Telehealth Program in the upcoming COVID-19 relief package.

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, in June 2020, the FCC announced that it would stop accepting applications for awards. And last 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.

In a letter sent to congressional leadership in both parties, the bipartisan group emphasized the skyrocketing demand in their districts for reliable telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, they stressed how the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program has helped local providers meet the need for safe and reliable healthcare access in response to the crisis — and how continued funding would provide them with the resources they require to maintain or establish new telehealth projects.

“Congress rightly anticipated the increased demand when it included a $200 million appropriation in the CARES Act for the FCC to support health care providers’ provision of telehealth services needed to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus,” said Spanberger, Johnson, and their colleagues. “Unfortunately, within weeks of FCC starting the program, it was apparent this initial appropriation would be insufficient to meet providers’ needs. More than 5,200 providers applied to participate in the program, and the FCC could only fund 500 of these applications before exhausting the initial appropriation.”

Their letter continues, “These efforts by health providers in our districts, and thousands more like them, would improve access to care for communities across the country and protect providers and patients from this very infectious disease. For those reasons, we urge you to include an extension of the FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program.”

Last month, Spanberger and Johnson introduced a bipartisan bill to provide much-needed funding to the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Their COVID-19 Telehealth Program Extension Act would provide an additional $200 million in funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.

The letter led by Spanberger and Johnson was also signed by U.S. Representatives Bryan Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), TJ Cox (D-CA-21), James Baird (R-IN-04), Peter Welch (D-VT-AL), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ-03), Doris Matsui (D-CA-06), Ami Bera, M.D. (D-CA-07), Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-GA-02), Cindy Axne (D-IA-03), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18), Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH-11), David Trone (D-MD-06), Katie Porter (D-CA-45), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ-05), and David Cicilline (D-RI-01).

Click here to read the letter, and the full letter text is below.

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy,

As you continue negotiations on the next COVID-19 stimulus package, we write to emphasize the importance of an extension for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). We urge you to provide an additional $200 million consistent with the provisions of the bipartisan COVID-19 Telehealth Extension Act (H.R. 7760).

As you know, there has been a surge in interest in telehealth services from both patients and providers since the public health emergency began. Preliminary national numbers provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) show the magnitude of the increase. CMS reports that 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.

Local providers in our districts report experiences that are in line with the national trend. In Central Virginia, for instance, one safety net hospital reported an average increase in telehealth visits of over 7,000 percent 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.

Congress rightly anticipated the increased demand when it included a $200 million appropriation in the CARES Act for the FCC to support health care providers’ provision of telehealth services needed to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. Unfortunately, within weeks of FCC starting the program, it was apparent this initial appropriation would be insufficient to meet providers’ needs. More than 5,200 providers applied to participate in the program, and the FCC could only fund 500 of these applications before exhausting the initial appropriation.

Furthermore, providers that serve vulnerable communities across the country report support from the program as being essential to standing up telehealth services. A recent study found that as recently as 2018, 56 percent of community health centers did not have any telehealth use, and that of those, only about one in five were actively in the process of implementing or exploring telehealth. Additionally, the benefits of telehealth, especially in long-term care facilities, are clear. 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.

These efforts by health providers in our districts, and thousands more like them, would improve access to care for communities across the country and protect providers and patients from this very infectious disease. For those reasons, we urge you to include an extension of the FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program.

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