Democrat Michael Bennet unveiled his telehealth-focused rural plan, which increases resources for IT investments; he also recently introduced a separate Senate bill to boost broadband in underserved areas.

Presidential candidate sees telemedicine as key to rural health

By Mike Miliard
05:12 PM

Noting that 72 percent of land in the U.S. is located away from metro areas, Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bennet has unveiled his healthcare plan for rural America – and it relies heavily on big investments in telemedicine.

WHY IT MATTERS
Bennet may not be one of the front-runners in the crowded Democratic primary field, but he's perhaps the earliest and most explicit to discuss the value of health IT – particularly when it comes to delivering care to those who need it most.

"Rural Americans currently face unique challenges to accessing high-quality, affordable healthcare," said Bennet on his website. "Chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, are more prevalent in rural communities. And the lack of providers and insurers has resulted in higher costs and lower quality of care."

A potential Bennet Administration would make expansion of health coverage one of its top priorities, he said, boosting care through a combination of the "Medicare-X" public option the Colorado Senator introduced with his Democratic colleague, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, in 2017.

Other goals: lower costs, close gaps in care, improve maternal and infant health outcomes, support seniors and caregivers, combat substance abuse and "harness technology and innovation."

As Bennet explains, the U.S. "leads the world in innovation in healthcare, with a commitment to research, technology and medical innovation that is unparalleled." But it isn't available to everyone. So to close that urban-rural divide, the candidate's rural plan involves investments in telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, he said.

Telemedicine "can play an important role in delivering services to people in remote communities who cannot easily drive to often far-away medical facilities," Bennet explained. "Remote patient monitoring provides patients and their providers the ability to track their health metrics, which can prevent hospitalizations and emergency room visits."

Toward that end, Bennet pledged make a $40 billion capital investment to connect the "entire country to high-speed, reliable, affordable broadband" to better enable rural health providers to communicate with patients and monitor health conditions remotely.

THE LARGER TREND
Bennet this past week also introduced The Broadband Transparency and Accountability Act of 2019, which aims to reform how broadband internet service providers companies report data to the federal government about affordability and access to broadband.

The Federal Communications Commission has long required ISPs to report the census blocks in which they offer service – information that helps determine which areas receive federal support to close the digital divide.

But there are big flaws with how it's process works that could enable an overrepresentation of how many households actually have broadband service. Bennet's bill would require ISPs to report "granular, address-level data for attributes including speed, affordability, latency, and denials of service," and strengthen accountability by establishing robust verification and challenge processes from the government.

ON THE RECORD
"Every home, hospital, school, and farm without broadband is a failure of our ambition to build a 21st century economy for everyone," said Bennet in a statement introducing the Senate bill. "For years, the FCC’s flawed data collection has kept us from knowing who in America has broadband and who does not—especially in rural areas. Our bill strengthens broadband data so that we can better target federal investments to close the digital divide."

The U.S. "leads the world in innovation in healthcare, with a commitment to research, technology, and medical innovation that is unparalleled," said Bennet in describing his own broadband-dependent presidential healthcare plan. "We must ensure the benefits of this innovation are reaching rural communities and harness 21st century technology to close the urban-rural divide in access."

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.