SHLB Urges the FCC to Reform and Increase Funding for Rural Health Care Program
February 02, 2018


 

Washington, DC (February 2, 2018) - The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition,  a broad-based membership organization that includes health providers and telehealth networks, filed comments with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) today asking for an increase in funding for the Rural Health Care (RHC) program to improve the quality of health care in rural markets across the United States.

The RHC program is currently facing an unprecedented crisis. Applications for funding exceeded the funding cap for both FY 2016 and FY 2017. This funding shortage has resulted in health providers canceling or downgrading broadband connections and reducing services to the public. The backlog of applications is becoming worse than ever -- USAC has not yet released its decisions for FY 2017 applications.  Several telehealth networks put their plans to expand into rural markets on hold due to the uncertainty around future funding.

“Reform of the Rural Health Care Program is long overdue,” said John Windhausen, Jr., Executive Director of the SHLB Coalition. “The SHLB Coalition urged the FCC to reform the program when we filed our Petition for Rulemaking in December 2015, and the problems are now even worse.  Applicants are encountering a nightmarish situation in which they must file FY 2018 applications even though they do not know the status of their FY 2017 applications.  We are extremely pleased that Chairman Pai has launched this proceeding to streamline the program and to consider additional funding.  Now is the time to act. Investing in rural telemedicine will boost the health of rural communities that face a severe shortages of doctors, aging populations, and greater distances to travel to reach medical experts.”

The SHLB Coalition offers four main recommendations to reform the Universal Service Fund program: 1) Increase the cap to meet the current demand; 2) Encourage the formation of consortia in the Healthcare Connect Fund; 3) Establish funding tiers to ensure funds are distributed to the most rural areas; and 4) Improve administrative efficiency, transparency, and protection against waste, fraud, and abuse.

“The number of entities eligible for RHC funding has more than doubled since 1996,” said Windhausen.  “The current $400 million per year cap was set by the FCC twenty years ago, before the mandate to implement electronic medical records and before broadband became a doctor’s best friend.  The cap must be adjusted upward to reflect the dramatic changes in the healthcare and broadband marketplaces, as well as account for inflation.  Telemedicine not only addresses the rural health gap at a lower cost than traditional medicine, but telehealth networks also spur additional business activity and economic growth.  If sized correctly, the RHC program has the power to build the future of medicine for rural communities.”

Visit http://www.shlb.org/policy/Rural-Health-Care to learn more about SHLB’s advocacy to improve our nation’s telehealth.

 



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