U.S. Senators Tina Smith & Mike Rounds Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Health Care Providers Continue Delivering Telehealth Services to Rural America

WASHINGTON, D.C. [10/1/20]—U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) introduced bipartisan legislation to help health care providers continue delivering telehealth services to rural communities during the coronavirus (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 Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.).

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 the limited program funds.  

“Telehealth has been incredibly valuable during COVID-19,” said Sen. 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.”

“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 Sen. Rounds. “Fortunately, tele-health 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 tele-health technology so more Americans can utilize these services.” 

The coronavirus (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.