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Biden’s plan to expand broadband is great for seniors

President Biden announced an agreement with 20 Internet service providers, including AT&T T and Comcast CMCSA, to provide high-speed broadband to low-income households for no more than $ 30 a month. That’s less than half the $ 2021 average cost of $ 61 and much less in many areas. This initiative, and an even larger complementary program to build broadband in communities without it, will be very important for older adults and young people with disabilities.

While much of the broadband care is focused on how it will help young families with children, it will also improve access to health care and follow-up, as well as social services and supports: critical benefits for to the elderly who have difficulty leaving home.

For people with limited access to face-to-face health care and support services, telehealth has the potential to be a breakthrough in health care. It allows doctors and other medical professionals to diagnose and monitor medical conditions remotely and request treatment without patients having to leave home.

For some chronic conditions, telehealth can provide faster and less costly care than face-to-face visits. Patient satisfaction seems to be as high for telehealth as face-to-face care. You may be able to avoid avoidable emergency room visits and even hospital admissions. However, we are still learning about the quality of remote care.

But many older adults cannot visit a primary care physician, either because they are too fragile to leave home, because they have no transportation source, or because there is no medical care in their communities. For them, the choice may be between telehealth or not having any attention. But older adults remain skeptical of telehealth, in part because of their limited ability to access it.

Long-term health and care systems are still optimizing telehealth. But technology has improved dramatically in recent years. And during the pandemic, the federal government was much more willing to pay for this service. It is especially important in those low-income rural or urban areas where access to health care is limited.

But in many of these communities, either there is no Internet or patients cannot afford it. For them, technical and regulatory advances in telehealth will make no difference until they have access to broadband.

Remote monitoring. This is a subset of telehealth, but it is important to note. For years, it has been possible to remotely monitor a patient’s weight, blood pressure, and other vital signs. It can be especially valuable for people with chronic conditions, such as diabetics whose blood glucose can be controlled remotely, or people with congestive heart failure whose weight can be monitored daily. But widespread use of these technologies has been limited by payment problems and, yes, by the lack of reliable high-speed Internet.

Technology has improved. Many of the regulatory and payment barriers are being dismantled. But none of this will matter to those patients with slow or no Internet.

Virtual services and programming. The pandemic forced senior service providers to be creative with their offerings, often moving from face-to-face to virtual. Many of these changes in service delivery will survive the pandemic for a long time.

For example, the Greater Washington Jewish Council for Aging, where I participate in the Board, changed its social model of adult day program from face-to-face to virtual in early 2020. It was a great success for adult day participants, all of them. they have memory loss in the early stages and their families.

But JCA’s virtual programming was inaccessible to many simply because they had no Internet that could accommodate Zoom. I suspect that many nonprofit community organizations like JCA tried to find funding to support Internet access for low-income older adults. But it was a big challenge.

The money for the Biden initiative comes from the big infrastructure bill that Congress passed last year. It included $ 65 billion to build broadband in communities that don’t have it, but it also set aside about $ 14 billion to subsidize high-speed Internet access, but it’s too expensive for many consumers.

Households are eligible for the new program if their income is below 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($ 27,180 for a single person or $ 36,620 for a couple in 2022), if they have Medicaid or supplemental security income. SSI) or if they are already eligible for your ISP’s discount service.

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