Reps. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Sens. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Doug Jones, D-Ala., introduced legislation in both chambers of Congress June 11 to invest $50 million in rural telehealth initiatives amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Through the Increasing Rural Health Access During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Act (H.R. 7190S. 3951), the legislators aim to increase access to telehealth in rural areas as more patients pivot to virtual appointments to avoid the virus. The $50 million would establish a pilot grant program within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to distribute funds for salaries, equipment, and other costs related to telehealth.

“This pandemic has demonstrated the vital importance of allowing rural healthcare facilities to fully embrace telemedicine as a way to reach patients in outlying and underserved areas,” Newhouse said of the legislation. “Supporting the expansion of telemedicine and remote patient monitoring will empower our healthcare providers to ensure that no patient is left behind, especially during a public health emergency.”

Torres Small added, “We must continue to work towards innovative solutions to expand access to healthcare and make sure our rural communities aren’t left behind.”

Examples of funding opportunities outlined by the legislators include the development or delivery of services that enhance access to healthcare services in rural areas, acquisition of technology to support telehealth, and medical data management.

The legislation was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce in the House and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions in the Senate.

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