A remarkable demographic change is happening among elderly Americans. It's a trend that the U.S. Census Bureau recently called, "a gray revolution in living arrangements" and the implications for health care access are huge.
There are now almost 27 million households headed by someone 65 and older, a 24% increase over the past decade, according to Census. For women over 75, living alone has overtaken staying with relatives as the most common living scenario.
As a result, the need for dramatic improvements in health care delivery, especially in rural America, is becoming a crucial national issue. As The Journal put it, "Aging in place is proving difficult in places where the population is growing older, supportive services are scarce, houses are in disrepair and younger people who can assist have moved away."
The seniors profiled in that article - many living alone in rural areas - show the need for expanded telehealth and mHealthpractices. Telehealth and mHealth are vital to expanding access to diagnoses and monitoring services that would otherwise only be available after a long car ride.
But while Federal and State officials increasingly recognize the importance of telehealth and mHealth, the inevitable question is - how can we make this happen? Larry Irving, co-chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance, has an excellent idea: expand the federal Lifeline Program to include broadband Internet service.
Irving, who has been writing for decades about the need to expand broadband Internet service, envisions a scenario in which consumers in need receive direct subsidies to purchase broadband. This, in turn, stimulates competition for broadband deployment. Administration of the new program would rest with an appropriate Federal agency.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Irving's insightful idea is that Federal benefits will go directly to those most in need. As Irving correctly notes, the tens of millions of Americans still not connected to broadband "tend to be older, poorer, sicker or live in rural communities."
The Lifeline program today is focused solely on telephone service. To be sure, phone service remains vital. Yet in today's society, phone service without broadband is incomplete - like a car whose tires are almost, but not quite, flat. Modernizing the Federal Lifeline program would address this problem efficiently and effectively.
American society is changing and so are our health care needs. Modernizing the Federal Lifeline program is an important step forward to address those needs.