The FCC passed a funding increase to the Universal Service Fund’s Rural Healthcare Program, earmarking funds to improve broadband availability in rural areas. This will allow healthcare providers to offer telehealth programs that rely on strong internet to connect to remote patients and enable practitioners to collaborate and consult with specialists outside of their area.
“Dependable broadband is a must so medical information like imaging, X-rays and more can be shared by providers,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of a large group in Congress to appeal to the FCC to boost funding, said in news reports following the FCC vote.
“The path to prosperity and quality healthcare in rural Oregon demands reliable rural broadband,” Wyden said. “You can’t just have a healthcare system that picks and chooses affluent folks in urban areas and forgets about rural communities.”
The previous annual spending cap of $400 million for the Rural Healthcare Program was established and 1997 and had never been adjusted for inflation, largely because the cap was never met until recently. Two years ago healthcare organization and lawmakers began to lobby for an increase to this cap, due to increasing demands particularly to take advantage of newly emerging telehealth technology. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai supported the increase in funding and asked his committee to boost 2018 funding by 43%, and adjusting the budget for inflation going forward.
“This money will help health care providers get the connectivity they need to better serve patients throughout rural America,” Pai said. “Demand for funding has been outpacing the program’s funding cap, so I also believe that the increased cap should apply to the current funding year so that rural health care providers can be fully reimbursed.”
Read more in-depth coverage of this change at mHealthIntelligence.