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At the start of April, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced the Healthcare Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act. The bill proposed to increase telehealth funding in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The legislation seems to be moving forward now that a group led by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Like its congressional counterpart, the Senate bill calls for an additional $2 billion in funding for the Federal Communications Commission's Rural Health Care Program. The initiative subsidizes 65 percent of the cost of broadband access for eligible healthcare facilities. Before Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-California) and Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced the original bill, the FCC had earmarked approximately $600 million for the program in 2020. The bill would also make additional clinics eligible to participate in the program, including those based in non-rural parts of the country, as well as attempt to streamline how the FCC distributes funding. The money would be separate to the $200 million the FCC approved to support COVID-19 telehealth services at the start of April.
“During this pandemic, telehealth services are helping families receive the critical health care they need,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill will provide much-needed funding to help hospitals improve their connectivity so they can care for more patients.”
According to the press release Senators Schatz and Murkowski shared, several trade groups, including the United States Telecom Association, have endorsed the legislation. Alongside the Medicare changes the Trump administration introduced in March, the additional funding could go a long way toward making remote healthcare more accessible to the public.