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More Funding to Support Telemedicine in Rural PA

June 26, 2018

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has increased funding for the Rural Health Care Program by $171 million, bringing the program’s annual cap to $571 million. The program is intended to increase broadband connectivity to health care providers. 

This additional funding will help support increased access to broadband and telemedicine for 800,000 Pennsylvanians who currently lack access, including 520,000 in rural areas and more than 250,000 in urban areas.

Pennsylvania is particularly affected by lack of broadband access and limited cell phone towers. Enhancing broadband coverage across the state is a crucial step in increasing access to needed primary and specialty health care services using telemedicine.  

This federal action compliments state efforts to expand broadband access. In March, Governor Tom Wolf announced the creation of the Pennsylvania Office of Broadband Initiatives. The office is charged with expanding high-speed internet access to every Pennsylvanian by the end of 2022.  

The Governor’s announcement included financial incentives of up to $35 million to private service providers bidding on projects in underserved or unserved areas of the state.

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

Earlier this month, the state Senate took a step forward by unanimously passing Senate Bill 780, sponsored by Senator Elder Vogel (R-Beaver).

The legislation, which is backed by HAP and the Pennsylvania Medical Society:

  • Defines telemedicine 
  • Ensures that consumers get care from qualified practitioners
  • Makes certain that Pennsylvania’s diverse insurance community covers telemedicine consistently

For more information about the Rural Health Care Program, contact Kate Slatt, HAP’s senior director, innovative payment and care delivery.

For more information about state telemedicine legislation, contact Scott Bishop, HAP’s senior vice president, legislative advocacy, or Stephanie Watkins, HAP’s vice president, state legislative advocacy.

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