$200 Million in Critical Telehealth Programs Need Quick Approval, Tester Urges FCC

$200 million in coronavirus telehealth funding included in the CARES Act after bipartisan negotiations

Continuing his aggressive push to expand telehealth resources for Montanans in response to the coronavirus outbreak, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to quickly approve $200 million for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program as appropriated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and to launch the Connected Care pilot program. The five FCC Commissioners will consider this proposal in the coming days.

“It’s long been clear to folks in rural America that telehealth provides effective care in hard-to-reach areas, but these services have never been more critical than they are right now,” said Tester. “I urge the FCC to act and immediately approve these telehealth programs so that low-income Montanans, veterans, and folks in our rural communities get the critical care they need to stay safe and healthy during this pandemic.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s original Phase III coronavirus legislative package did not include any money for telehealth services, but after a sustained push by Senator Tester and his colleagues, this $200 million made it into the final version of the CARES Act. This week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed the creation of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which would distribute these funds to health care providers who need assistance purchasing information technology and internet services, as well as new equipment to engage patients.

Additionally, Pai’s proposal includes the Connected Care Pilot program, which would be funded up to $100 million using existing FCC funds. This money will cover 85 percent of eligible expenses incurred by low-income and veteran patients trying to access telehealth technology like telephone and broadband services.

Tester has led the charge to expand access to telehealth resources during the coronavirus outbreak. He successfully pushed to extend the application window for Rural Health Care providers by 60 days due to the outbreak, and he called on the FCC to ensure all K-12 students have access to the internet so they can keep up with their education. He also introduced legislation that would establish a $2 billion FCC fund to compensate broadband providers for giving free or discounted services and upgrades to low-income families in rural areas who are struggling to keep up with bills due to the outbreak.

Visit tester.senate.gov/coronavirusresouces for a list of resources for Montanans during the COVID-19 outbreak