One of my most important priorities is the improvement of access to broadband in Georgia. This issue has taken on renewed importance during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when many of us were working from home and students were attending classes online.
The issue has continued to remain a priority for me, and my colleagues in the Georgia House Republican Caucus, as we have seen the impact of access to broadband on access to healthcare. The expanding use of “telemedicine” has demonstrated a crucial path to quality healthcare access for those not living near a large hospital or medical specialists.
We budgeted $30 million to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program. This program assists rural communities in targeting broadband needs in their area. The budget also includes $150,000 to hire a grant administrator to run this program.
We also included $39.5 million for the OneGeorgia Authority for a Rural Innovation Fund dedicated to assisting rural communities in developing targeted solutions for economic, medical, technological, or infrastructure challenges.
The budget for FY 2022 instructs the Department of Transportation to utilize $10 million of existing state and federal funds for broadband and rural development initiatives to enhance broadband access in underserved areas and to promote safety and innovation on our rural roadways. Additionally, Governor Kemp has committed millions of dollars that Georgia received from the American Rescue Plan to accelerate broadband infrastructure expansion.
During this year’s Session, we also passed House Bill 307. This bill authorizes health care providers to offer services from locations other than their offices and patients to receive services in their homes or other locations through telehealth technology.
Insurers are not allowed to require separate deductibles or in-person consultations before insureds receive telehealth services.
In areas with limited broadband services, patients can even receive services via audio-only means.
Under HB 307, insurers are not permitted to restrict providers to the use of specific platforms or vendors, guaranteeing that providers can use the platform that serves their patients best. Additionally, insurers cannot create restrictions blocking providers’ ability to prescribe medication through telehealth that are more restrictive than state and federal laws for in-person prescriptions.
Providers are required to keep records that are at least as detailed as the documentation for in-person services.
Continuing to increase health care options for Georgians requires high-quality, accessible broadband and expanding telehealth opportunities. Practically, improving connectivity and new legislation has allowed many small hospitals to offer cutting-edge treatment to our neighbors suffering from the devastating effects of COVID-19.
I will continue working on these important issues to support Georgians across the state, no matter their zip code.
If you have any feedback or ideas about how to enhance our workforce development efforts, do not hesitate to call (404) 656-5052, email, or engage on Facebook.
If you would like to receive email updates, please visit my website to sign up for my newsletter or email me.
Jon Burns represents District 159 in the Georgia General Assembly, where he serves as the House majority leader.