The COVID-19 pandemic strained our health care system nearly to a breaking point and mounted additional challenges for many to see a doctor in person. Fortunately, over the course of this past year, telehealth has allowed many Arizonans to use technology to conduct virtual visits with their doctor or medical provider for COVID-19 care, urgent medical advice, routine check-ups and more. This evolving form of care helped reduce the community spread of COVID-19, protect our frontline health care workers and keep more families healthy.
However, access to telehealth is not the same everywhere in our nation. Inadequate and unreliable broadband has left millions of Americans, particularly those in rural, tribal and underserved areas, at a disadvantage.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, more than one-third of Arizona’s 1st Congressional District lacks high-speed broadband, and that rate is even higher on tribal lands. That means many of my constituents are forced to postpone important medical appointments and delay much-needed care.
Additionally, many seniors also lack or are unable to use broadband and video technology. It is equally important for Arizonans, particularly those who rely on Medicare Advantage, to be able to conduct doctors’ visits via phone for the medical assistance they need. Audio-only telehealth is vital.
That is why I am a proud cosponsor of HR 2166, the Ensuring Parity in MA and PACE for Audio-Only Telehealth Act. This bipartisan legislation will ensure Arizonans can continue to consult with their doctor and conduct other necessary health care visits remotely and over the phone. This bill will also ensure seniors can continue receiving the essential medical advice and consultation they require from the comfort, convenience and safety of their own home.
An American’s access to critical medical care should not depend on their Internet speed or familiarity with technology. Congress must address broadband disparities and ensure access in rural areas. However, we cannot afford to wait in ensuring that access to audio-only telehealth is an option for those who need it. I am proud to co-sponsor HR 2166 for all of our communities who cannot easily access health care in-person.
U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., represents Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He lives in unincorporated Yavapai County, outside the Village of Oak Creek.
Originally published in the Pinal Central