HHS to put $35M toward telehealth for family planning
November 29, 2021
The agency plans to use the funds to award about 60 one-time grants to Title X family planning providers, who must apply by February of next year.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would make $35 million in American Rescue Plan funding available for Title X family planning providers to strengthen their telehealth infrastructure and capacity.
Title X family planning clinics help to insure access to a broad range of reproductive health services for low-income or uninsured individuals.
"I’ve seen first-hand the critical role that telehealth plays in serving communities, particularly to protect so many families from COVID-19," said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement about the grant availability.
"As providers transitioned from providing in-person primary care to offering telehealth services, we were able to test, vaccinate, and act as lifelines to communities disproportionately hit by the pandemic," he said. "Increasing our investment and access to telehealth services remains critical."
WHY IT MATTERS
The Office of Population Affairs funds 71 Title X family planning service grantees and supports hundreds of subrecipients and thousands of service sites around the country.
Family planning includes a broad range of services related to reproductive health, including contraception, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy testing.
Although abortion care can be co-located with family planning services, Title X funds cannot be used to pay for it.
Although some services require in-person treatment and exams, others can be carried out via telehealth – as evidenced by grantees' use of virtual care to help their patients during the COVID-19 crisis. Still, facilities may not have adequate technology available.
"During the global COVID-19 pandemic, family planning programs have accelerated the use of telehealth," said Dr. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health, in a statement.
"These ARP funds will facilitate the delivery of quality family planning services and reduce access barriers for people living in America who rely on the health care safety net for services," she added.
HHS plans to use the funds to award about 60 one-time grants to active Title X grantees. Organizations must apply by February 3, 2022, and notices of awards will be announced before the project start date of May 1, 2022.
THE LARGER TREND
Even as the government has moved to shore up telehealth infrastructure via funding, the question of virtual care's future continues to hang over Congress.
Despite requests from hundreds of advocacy organizations, legislators have so far failed to take action to permanently safeguard telehealth after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency – what some activists have referred to as "the telehealth cliff."
"We recognize there are many unknowns related to the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic over the next 12 to 24 months," said American Telemedicine Association CEO Ann Mond Johnson in October. "However, we implore Secretary Becerra to provide as much predictability and certainty as possible to ensure adequate warning before patients are pushed over this looming cliff."
ON THE RECORD
"The pandemic has laid bare the important role that telehealth can play in our nation’s healthcare service delivery, and we are profoundly grateful for the opportunity to support continued investments in telehealth for the nation’s family planning safety net," said Jessica Swafford Marcella, HHS deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, in a statement.