May 1, 2024 - Health

End of internet subsidy threatens telehealth access

Illustration of a hand pulling a 3D bottle of pills from a laptop screen.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Millions of low-income Americans may find it harder to see health care providers virtually after federal subsidies for high-speed internet expired Tuesday.

The big picture: Many of the 23 million households that received financial help to afford their internet bill made or attended health care appointments online, a federal survey indicates.

  • Funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which was created in 2021 infrastructure legislation, is set to dry up completely in June without action from Congress.
  • The program is seen as a key to improving health care access for people with disabilities and rural communities, as telehealth use remains well above pre-pandemic levels.

Catch up quick: Under the program, eligible households receive $30 monthly toward internet services, while tribal households receive $75.

  • All Medicaid beneficiaries qualified for the program. Almost 20% of participants are over age 65 and eligible for Medicare.

State of play: The Federal Communications Commission froze enrollment in the program in February in anticipation of funding running out.

  • Non-tribal households enrolled in the program will get a reduced subsidy of $14 this month, while tribal households will receive $35.
  • A bipartisan bill to add $7 billion to the program hasn't moved yet, but a Senate panel will consider the legislation this week.
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