Expanding Telehealth Access for Low-Income Americans


Telehealth is an important way to deliver healthcare to some of our most vulnerable patients, but sometimes the patients who need telehealth lack the ability to utilize it. In August of 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a proposal to establish the “Connected Care Pilot Program” – a $100 million program that will support expanding telehealth access among low-income Americans. i

The American Hospital Association (AHA) formally expressed support for the Connected Care Pilot Program in September of 2018 but released a statement on October 11, 2018, urging sufficient funding of the initiative. The AHA contends that the obligations providers will face by participating in the program could serve as a deterrent, unless additional funding is built into the program. As currently proposed, each telehealth pilot project could receive $5 million in funding, to not only support broadband connectivity for low-income patients, but also for the provider to expand their telehealth capabilities. Depending on the size of the provider and their current technology, the AHA contends that the $5 million in funding may be insufficient.ii

Additionally, the AHA has asked that the FCC expand their definition of patients who are eligible for this pilot program. The program should not be limited to patients who receive Medicaid; for example, the AHA proposes that pilot funding include patients who are approved for financial assistance via their healthcare provider, regardless of Medicaid status.ii The expansion in who we define as a low-income patient is essential if we are to truly reach the most vulnerable among us. A great number of Americans have incomes high enough to disqualify them from benefits, such as Medicaid, but fail to cover their daily expenses – this is the patient who would most benefit from the Connected Care Pilot Program.

The AHA supports the Connected Care Pilot Program, as it recognizes the value of telehealth for both patients and their providers. This program is an important foundational step in getting vulnerable patients connected to providers via telehealth, as it provides for the expansion of broadband connectivity. This program also indicates the broadening acceptance of telehealth and its’ value in healthcare delivery, as well as the expectation that it will continue to reach more and more patients in the years to come.

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Helen Nichols, PhD, MSW
University of Maryland School of Social Work

i https://www.ruralhealthweb.org/blogs/ruralhealthvoices/august-2018/fcc-votes-to-approve-connected-care-pilot-program

ii https://www.healthdatamanagement.com/news/aha-urges-sufficient-funding-for-telehealth-pilot-program?feed=00000152-1276-da4c-af7b-5676f6060000