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Governor’s Broadband Plan Would Improve Access to Health Care for Pennsylvania Residents

March 27, 2018

Governor Tom Wolf has announced the creation of the Pennsylvania Office of Broadband Initiatives, a new office aimed at expanding high-speed internet access to every Pennsylvanian by the end of 2022. More than 800,000 residents lack access in the state, with more than 520,000 from rural areas and more than 250,000 in urban areas.

The announcement also included an incentive program that will provide up to $35 million to private service providers bidding on projects in underserved or unserved areas of the state.

Enhancing broadband coverage across the state is a critical step in increasing access to needed primary and specialty health care services using telemedicine.  

Telemedicine is the remote delivery of health care services and clinical information using telecommunications technology. This includes a variety of clinical services, from checking for flu symptoms and diagnosing rashes, to providing counseling services and consults from specialists through telestroke and teleburn services. Technology for telemedicine includes many platforms including internet, wireless, satellite, and smartphone. 

Telemedicine is integrated into the ongoing operations of many hospitals, specialty departments, home health agencies, private physician offices, as well as consumers’ homes and workplaces. Individuals can have video consultations for nonemergency issues to serious, life-threatening situations. This is important in areas where health care services are further away, or when specialty physician input is needed.

Also critical to enhancing access to health care in rural parts of the state is the passage of legislation that will require health insurers to provide reimbursement for telemedicine services if they pay for the same service in person. Currently, 34 states and the District of Columbia require this type of coverage for telemedicine services.

Senator Elder Vogel (R-Beaver) and Representative Marguerite Quinn (R-Bucks) introduced companion bills (Senate Bill 780/House Bill 1648). In addition to requiring reimbursement, the bills define the key components of telemedicine and set licensing requirements.

HAP supports the use of telemedicine in hospitals to improve health care access and help hospitals continue to improve the delivery of care at the right time and place for patients. Pennsylvania hospitals urge the legislature to continue to move this important legislation through the process.

For more information about the Governor’s initiative, contact Kate Slatt, HAP’s senior director, innovative payment and care delivery. For more information about Senate Bill 780 or House Bill 1648, contact Scott Bishop, HAP’s senior vice president, legislative advocacy, or Stephanie Watkins, HAP’s vice president, state legislative advocacy.

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