Federal agencies creating joint task force for rural telehealth initiative
HHS announced in a press release that it is partnering with the Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Department of Agriculture to address health disparities and improve access to telehealth in rural areas.
The agencies will create a joint task force, which the release said will “consider future recommendations or guidelines for this effort and exchange agency expertise, scientific and technical information, data and publications.”
The effort is part of the agencies’ Rural Telehealth Initiative, the goals of which are “to address health disparities, resolve service provider challenges and promote broadband services and technology to rural areas in America,” the release said.
Barriers to health care access in rural areas, which include hospital closures and lack of specialty care, create health disparities. People living in rural areas are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke, according to the release.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made the rural health care challenge even more serious and has complicated healthcare providers’ efforts to serve rural Americans,” Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said in the release. “More than ever, these areas of the country need enhanced connectivity to provide vital health services to residents.”
Previously, the AMA called on lawmakers to expand infrastructure and access to telehealth services. In a letter to Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, James L. Madara, MD, AMA executive vice president and CEO, wrote that the organization “strongly recommends that Congress permanently fix the geographic and site of service restrictions on audio-visual technologies to allow Medicare to cover and pay for telehealth services to beneficiaries anywhere in the country and to any site, including to the home.”
The current blanket waiver for geographic and site of service restrictions is scheduled to remain in effect for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
- CMS. Medicare Telemedicine Health Care Provider Fact Sheet. https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/medicare-telemedicine-health-care-provider-fact-sheet. Accessed Sept. 3, 2020.
- HHS. Memorandum of Understanding for Planning a Rural Telehealth Initiative among the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Communications Commission. https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/rural-telehealth-mou-hhs-usda-fcc.pdf. Accessed Sept. 2, 2020.
- Madara, J. Letter to Lamar Alexander. https://searchlf.ama-assn.org/undefined/documentDownload?uri=%2Funstructured%2Fbinary%2Fletter%2FLETTERS%2F2020-6-26-Letter-to-Alexander-re-Response-and-Comment-on-Preparing-for-Next-Pandemic-Final.pdf. Accessed Sept. 3, 2020.