Lucas Joins Bipartisan Letter to FCC Urging Support for Telehealth in Rural Communities

April 12, 2021
Press Release

Cheyenne, OK – Today, Congressman Frank Lucas (OK-03) joined Representative Greg Pence (R-IN) and 28 other Members of Congress in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to support America’s rural communities in the second round of funding for the Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program.

“As members representing rural parts of America, we strongly support the advancement of telehealth telecommunication technologies to improve access to critical care for those that live beyond the reach of brick and mortar physician service establishments. During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth technologies proved their worth in connecting patients with their providers when virus containment measures restricted access to medical services,” wrote the Members of Congress. “As the Federal Communications Commission continues advancing the second round of funding through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, we request that the Commission prioritize rural areas.”

The lawmakers continued, “The disruption in access to care caused by the pandemic was particularly acute for patients that live miles away from physician and specialty services. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rural Americans, who make up 15 percent of the U.S. population, are disproportionally affected by health disparities compared to their urban counterparts. Beyond the pandemic, telehealth will play a critical role in improving patient outcomes for rural patients, ultimately providing superior services at a lower cost to the taxpayer.”

The COVID-19 Telehealth Program provided $200 million in funding, appropriated by Congress as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to help health care providers provide connected care services to patients at their homes or mobile locations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s broadband networks have kept our economies, classrooms, doctor’s visits, and communities together. While the pandemic underscored the strength of our broadband networks, it also highlighted the need for further reliable, accessible broadband- especially in our rural communities,” said Congressman Lucas. “The FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program provides critical assistance to our nation’s health care providers as they provide care to our communities via telehealth. I applaud the FCC for their work in bridging the digital divide and ensuring telehealth technologies are utilized across the country- as telehealth will continue to play an important role in rural access to health care- and I urge them to prioritize rural communities in the second round of funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.”

On December 27, 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 provided the FCC additional funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.  Per Congressional directive, the FCC was required to seek comment on various ideas related to committing the new funding, including the criteria to use to evaluate applications and how to treat pending applications from the initial round of funding.

Read the letter here or below:

 

The Honorable Jessica Rosenworcel

Acting Chairwoman

Federal Communications Commission

445 12th Street SW

Washington, D.C. 20554

 

Dear Chairwoman Rosenworcel,

As members representing rural parts of America, we strongly support the advancement of telehealth telecommunication technologies to improve access to critical care for those that live beyond the reach of brick and mortar physician service establishments. During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth technologies proved their worth in connecting patients with their providers when virus containment measures restricted access to medical services. As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues advancing the second round of funding through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, we request that the Commission prioritize rural areas. 

The disruption in access to care caused by the pandemic was particularly acute for patients that live miles away from physician and specialty services. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rural Americans, who make up 15 percent of the U.S. population, are disproportionally affected by health disparities compared to their urban counterparts. Beyond the pandemic, telehealth will play a critical role in improving patient outcomes for rural patients, ultimately providing superior services at a lower cost to the taxpayer. 

In response to the pandemic, Congress worked in a bipartisan fashion to provide ample funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (P.L. 116-136) and again through the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-260). Simultaneously, the previous administration worked in tandem to reduce barriers and expand regulatory flexibilities for telehealth applications across the country. We strongly support the waivers issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services to expand opportunities for patients and doctors to take advantage of innovative telecommunications services that maintained accessible health care during the pandemic. Notably, the ability for patients to receive care through telehealth technologies in the comfort of their home continue to be a great benefit to our constituents living in underserved rural communities. 

Through the first round of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, physician services in our districts had the resources to greatly improve their technological infrastructure to service their patients. Our providers established real-time audio and video telecommunications platforms that, in many instances, mimicked the type of care they could receive at an in-person setting. Beyond the pandemic, we strongly believe that telehealth will play a critical role in rural access to health care. 

In order to meet our shared goal of closing the digital divide, we urge the FCC to prioritize rural communities in the second round of funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program and bring them closer to the quality care that they need. Thank you for your attention to this critical request and we stand ready to provide additional information. 

 

Sincerely,

 

###

Issues: