Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Don Young (R-Ark.) have introduced the Health Care Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act, which would broaden the reach of FCC telehealth funds to COVID-19-related pop-up clinics and hospitals.
The bill would expand the FCC's rural healthcare program, including with a $2 billion infusion. It would fund "telehealth and high-quality internet connectivity at public and nonprofit healthcare facilities, including mobile clinics and temporary health facilities."
The FCC on Friday granted expedited environmental reviews of AT&T wireless tower sites in Wisconsin so the company could provide connectivity to a temporary hospital being built by the Army Corps of Engineers in Milwaukee.
“The coronavirus has only increased the need for high-quality and reliable internet connectivity as healthcare is increasingly delivered through telehealth and healthcare professionals depend on broadband for every aspect of their operations” said Eshoo.
The FCC's Healthcare Connect Fund Program (HCFP) provides a 65% subsidy for the cost of broadband for eligible public and nonprofit healthcare facilities. The bill expands eligibility and increases the subsidy to 85%. It also cuts red tape so the money can get to where it is needed as quickly as possible, the legislators say.
Congress also gave the FCC $200 million for a COVID-19 telehealth program in the CARES Act COVID-19 aid bill.
“In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, it is more critical than ever that our nation’s health care providers have ample broadband connectivity for telehealth services," said ACA Connects President Matt Polla. "The COVID-19 Act, introduced today by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK), would inject needed funds into the FCC’s Rural Health Care programs and direct the agency to take steps to distribute these funds to eligible providers as quickly as possible."
“This is a smart and targeted investment surge by Reps. Eshoo and Young and exactly what we should be doing during this public health emergency – finding ways to bring 21st century connectivity and more digital technology to all of our country’s hospital systems and healthcare providers – no matter their zip code," said USTelecom president Jonathan Spalter. "We know broadband powered telehealth can expand access and coverage options that can help frontline healthcare providers diagnose and treat more patients in this crisis and beyond.”
“The Fiber Broadband Association and its members strongly support this effort to keep healthcare facilities connected in this critical time. During this crisis, we have seen how broadband provides a literal lifeline, keeping healthcare facilities connected internally and connecting providers with patients at home via telemedicine," said Lisa youngers, president of the Fiber Broadband Association. "This $2 billion bipartisan effort will ensure that facilities in both urban and rural areas can continue their essential work in tackling this pandemic. We thank Rep. Eshoo and Rep. Young for their leadership.”