As telehealth continues to gain momentum among those with internet capabilities, those without it are being left behind. According to the research group BroadbandNow, more than 42 million Americans lack broadband access, many of them in rural communities. Meantime, many of those who do have access struggle to pay for it.
A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in January found that while 62 percent of cancer survivors covered by Medicare reported that their provider offered telehealth services, 52 percent of survivors living in a rural area reported telehealth availability.
According to an article in STAT, federal and state health programs are looking for ways to not only cover telehealth visits, but also the internet access that makes it possible.
Several health plans, including WellMed are offering pre-data-loaded devices connected to a providers’ network to allow patients to access virtual care. Last year, Kaiser Permanente awarded four grants totaling $143,000 to four nonprofit organizations designed to expand virtual care to vulnerable communities in Hawaii as part of its Virtual Care Innovation Network.
The American Rescue Plan earmarked $350 billion for various services for state and local agencies, including expanded broadband access. And, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act added another $65 billion in broadband funding. The Federal Communications Commission, through its Rural Health Care Program also provides funding to eligible healthcare providers for telecommunications and broadband services needed for the provision of healthcare. Earlier this month, the agency said it was seeking comments on several revisions to that program.
Recently, during a White House Event, the Biden Administration announced that more than 10 million households are enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program, the nation’s largest ever broadband affordability program.
While it’s clear that telehealth can provide patients with a way to see their doctor and have the potential to save on healthcare costs, there are still those who worry that it could drive up the cost of care by encouraging those to seek unnecessary care.
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