OPYS Telehealth Blog Series
March 8, 2022
Issue No. 3
Broadband access is the foundation of telehealth and virtual healthcare services. Without it, your program is like a like a sandcastle, built in the sand, that can be easily washed away by the ocean. When a patient is trying to access virtual healthcare, spotty or inadequate broadband speeds can prevent a successful virtual visit.
This situation has been very common during the COVID-19 pandemic and is at the heart of many legislative efforts to require state Medicaid and federal Medicare programs to continue to reimburse providers for audio-only telehealth services if broadband issues prevent a two-way, audio-visual connection between the patient and the provider. As of the writing of this blog, well over 100 bills have been introduced in the US Congress regarding some facet of telehealth. They have been classified by the Center for Connected Health Policy into the categories of: Broadband; Coronavirus; Cross-State Licensure; Medicaid Reimbursement; Medicare Reimbursement; Miscellaneous; Online Prescribing & Provider Patient Relationship Establishment; Pilot Programs, Studies, Demonstration Projects; Private Payer Reimbursement, Regulatory, Licensing, and Advisory Board; and Substance Use Disorders. Over 60 of these bills address some type of reimbursement.
The railroads were the national infrastructure of the United States in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. They connected our country in when is was young, and ushered in an era of unprecedented prosperity. High speed broadband internet, and its backbone of fiber optic infrastructure is the new railroad system of the 21st century. Even prior to COVID-19, which has brought telehealth and virtual health first programs to the attention of mainstream media, broadband studies have hailed broadband access as a way to return a 4:1 investment to rural areas across the county in terms of ”education, economic and workforce development, farm income, and consumer savings”, not to mention modernized virtual healthcare.
More recent focus on the opportunities for nationwide broadband access include a very timely article in the Health Tech portion of Stat News’s website. The article points out the various funding programs that have helped to expand broadband access across the country. Unfortunately, according to Pew Research Center, 13% of Americans still do not have reliable and affordable access to broadband services. This varies by age group; 86% of people age 30-49 have broadband service at, compared to 64% of those age 65 and older.
Some Medicaid plans are educating their patients on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) Affordable Connectivity Program. This program allows eligible households to receive up to $30 per month towards internet services ($75 if they are on tribal lands). There is also a one-time discount up to $100 for the purchase of a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer from a participating provider. Other payers are actually offering lower-cost broadband as a benefit to their members. These payers are not worried about overuse – instead they see it as a win-win for providing access to additional virtual care services their members would not have had without the program.
Executive Director of Telehealth Services