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Rounds, Smith Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Health Care Providers Continue Delivering Telehealth Services to Rural America

Legislation Would Secure Additional $200 Million for FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, Which Ran Out of Funding in July

WASHINGTON--U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) introduced bipartisan legislation to help health care providers continue delivering tele-health services to rural communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program Extension Act would provide an additional $200 million for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which ran out of funding in July. A bipartisan House companion bill has been introduced by U.S. Representatives Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).


“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, South Dakotans—especially those in rural areas—need to know they can access medical attention when they need it,” said Rounds. “Fortunately, telehealth services have become an easy and safe way for folks to speak with a medical professional from their home. Our legislation would allow for an existing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program to continue investing in telehealth technology so more Americans can utilize these services.”


“Telehealth has been incredibly valuable during COVID-19,” said Smith. “But gaps in access to telehealth, particularly in rural areas, are preventing people from getting the care they need. This is an issue of rural health equity. As we continue to respond to the pandemic—and prepare for future public health emergencies—we should be actively working to fix this gap. Our bipartisan legislation will help health care providers accelerate the use of technology to expand care in rural communities.”


The FCC established the COVID-19 Telehealth Program in April to help health care providers acquire telehealth technology to prevent, prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Such infrastructure included telehealth platforms, wireless access points for patients, tablets and remote monitoring devices. However, many health centers that were eligible and applied for funding did not receive it because of the limited program funds.  


The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in telehealth services for both physical and behavioral health. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), prior to the pandemic, approximately 13,000 fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries received telemedicine per week. By April 2020, nearly 1.7 million beneficiaries received telehealth services.


You can read the bill text here.



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