Pennsylvania Medicaid participants could see huge benefits from the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a new federal program to help low-income households pay for internet services and connected devices. Apart from the practical advantages of connecting to the internet, this initiative could also impact consumers’ health by facilitating access to telehealth and making it easier to manage their healthcare and benefits.
The ACP was established as part of President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure package (the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act). It replaces the temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program created as part of COVID relief legislation. Eligible households can receive a discount of up to $30 per month on their broadband service (up to $75 per month for households on qualifying tribal lands), plus a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer. Additionally, some families may be able to get high-speed internet at no cost through exclusive low-cost service plans. At least 20 leading internet providers have agreed to offer special service plans for ACP-eligible households for less than $30/month, which would be entirely covered by the ACP benefit.
For Pennsylvania Medicaid participants who qualify for ACP, the program could have benefits far beyond internet access. Having high-speed internet could give participants greater access to telemedicine services, which have been greatly expanded as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pennsylvania Legislature is considering several bills that would make permanent certain COVID-19 flexibilities and clarify regulations for telehealth. Improved access to telehealth could be especially valuable for consumers who have difficulty getting to medical appointments, including seniors, people with disabilities, and participants in rural areas. It could also make life easier for participants who require frequent medical appointments due to multiple health conditions. By making it easier for Medicaid participants to stay connected to their doctors via telehealth, the ACP could improve health outcomes.
The ACP benefit could also make it easier for some Medicaid participants to manage their care and keep up with administrative paperwork related to their benefits. Newly-connected consumers may be able to take advantage of a number of valuable online tools, such as:
- Using online patient portals to schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, send messages to physicians and review medical records. Currently, participants without access to these portals must call their doctor’s office during working hours and either wait on hold, leave a message, or both. Using online portals could dramatically simplify communication with doctors’ offices.
- Using the COMPASS portal to fill out Medicaid renewal paperwork and quickly submit supporting documents to the County Assistance Office online, rather than by mail. Currently, consumers without access to COMPASS must send their paperwork by postal mail or fax, or take it to the CAO in person, which can be burdensome and lead to processing delays or missing documents. Connecting more consumers to COMPASS could streamline this process, reducing the risk of a disruption in Medicaid coverage.
- Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Waiver participants can use electronic visit verification (EVV) to pay their direct care workers. Currently, HCBS participants without internet access must use a telephone workaround to have their caregivers clock in and out.
While technological literacy will continue to be an obstacle for many participants, the ACP will eliminate many of the other financial and technological barriers that prevent participants from fully utilizing these internet-based tools.
To qualify for the ACP benefit, a household must meet any one of the following requirements, listed on the FCC Website:
- Annual household income below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level ($55,500 for a household of 4 in 2022)
- Have a household member receiving a Lifeline benefit
- Have a household member participating in certain government assistance programs, including Medicaid, SNAP, WIC, SSI, Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPCA), Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit, Free or Reduced-Price School Lunch
- Have a household member participating in certain Tribal Assistance Programs
Households interested in signing up for ACP benefits can go to AffordableConnectivity.gov to apply online or print out a mail-in application.