Peters Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Expand Telehealth, Help Michiganders Receive Health Care

DETROIT, MI – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) announced the bipartisan Health Care Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act to direct $2 billion to help health care providers in Michigan increase their broadband capacity and expand telehealth services during the current public health crisis. Peters introduced this legislation along with U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John Boozman (R-AR), Angus King (I-ME), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Ed Markey (D-MA) in order to help families receive much-needed health care, especially from providers in rural and hard-to-reach communities.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has only further shown why it is so critical we expand broadband availability in rural areas. Now more than ever, Michiganders are relying on access to high-speed broadband to work, access health care, attend virtual classes and do business – but the digital divide makes doing all that difficult for many Michiganders,” said Senator Peters. “Expanding broadband capabilities for telehealth will not only save Michiganders time and money – but will also protect health care professionals and patients. I’m pleased to join this bipartisan bill to invest in telehealth and help close the broadband gap.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the demand for telehealth services, allowing providers to treat patients safely without putting themselves or their patients at risk. However, many providers do not have adequate resources to handle this surge in demand. This bill would ensure that these providers have the resources they need to improve connectivity and increase telehealth capacity.

The Health Care Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act will:

  • Provide $2 billion in additional support for the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program for the coronavirus response.
  • Increase the subsidy rate for RHC Health Care Connect Fund participants during the pandemic, which they can put toward additional telehealth resources.
  • Enable mobile and non-rural health care facilities to engage in telehealth during the pandemic under the RHC Program.
  • Eliminate red-tape and streamline the program’s distribution of funding so that health care providers can quickly implement telehealth applications and treat patients faster.
  • Delay the implementation of FCC rules for one year that would severely impact support for some of the program’s most rural health care providers.

“Senators Schatz, Murkowski, Boozman, King, Peters, Sullivan, Cramer and Markey are right to focus on ways Congress can invest now to increase connectivity-based health care solutions during this emergency,” said Jonathan Spalter, President and CEO of the United States Telecom Association. “Investing in broadband powered telehealth can transform and expand access to vital health care services. Like the companion legislation introduced by Reps. Eshoo and Young in the House, this plan recognizes that all of our country’s hospital systems and health care providers – no matters their zip code – should have cutting edge broadband and digital technology to diagnose and treat patients."

This bill is a companion to bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and has been endorsed by the United States Telecom Association, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, America's Communications Association, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, the National League of Cities, and the Fiber Broadband Association.

Peters has fought to expand broadband access and close the digital divide. Earlier this year, his bipartisan bill to improve the accuracy of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s broadband availability maps by modernizing how broadband data is collected was signed into law. During the Coronavirus pandemic, he and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján (NM-03) called for increased investments in rural broadband infrastructure to support Coronavirus response efforts in historically underserved communities. Many healthcare centers, schools and small businesses in rural and tribal communities across the country have had difficulties carrying out their daily operations without reliable, efficient broadband access.