WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Telemedicine is now the first line of defense against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Congress recently broadened telehealth services to allow more patients to see a doctor on their phone or computer without risking further infection to themselves or others.
However, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, argues many are still left out.
“You cannot have access to 21st-century healthcare or emergency response without access to high-speed internet,” Blackburn said. “We can make certain everyone during these times of a pandemic have access to care.”
Blackburn wants her Senate colleagues to include rural broadband expansion in their next coronavirus relief package. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said members will not leave Washington until they pass a “phase 3” stimulus plan.
“We can make certain the care you’re able to receive does not depend on the zip code where you live,” Blackburn.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA, also sees the effects of a digital divide in his home state.
“We’ve learned in Louisiana that a lot of our rural areas don’t have internet,” Kennedy said. “Forget about 5G or 4G. They don’t have any G.”
Kennedy has introduced legislation that would give states billions of dollars for rural broadband infrastructure, but the fiscal conservative said coronavirus has put it on the backburner.
“We don’t have time to pass it now,” he said.
However, the appetite in Congress for expanding broadband remains, with some of Kennedy and Blackburn’s colleagues supporting expansion not just for telehealth but also for the kids and parents now learning and working from home.