AHA opposes 'unexpected,' 'significant' funding cuts in FCC's rural telehealth program

The American Hospital Association penned a letter to the Federal Communications Commission April 24 opposing "unexpected and significant" funding cuts to providers participating in its telehealth-focused Rural Health Care program.

In March, the Universal Service Administrative Co., an independent program administrator designated by the FCC, revealed plans to impose funding cuts to participants of the FCC's Rural Health Care Program, which provides eligible healthcare providers with funding for broadband services to enhance their quality of care. For funding year 2017, which runs through June 30, 2018, the USAC outlined reductions of 15 percent for individual participants and 25 percent for consortia participants.

The USAC said it received $521 million in requests from eligible providers, surpassing the Rural Health Care program's annual funding cap, which has remained stagnant at $400 million since its inception in 1997. However, the AHA noted $521 million would have been below an inflation-adjusted cap at an estimated $571 million.

"We urge the FCC to fully fund qualified applicants under the RHC program for fiscal year 2017 and to take steps to permanently adjust the cap to prevent similar funding cuts in the future," the AHA wrote.

The unexpected funding cuts follow a proposed rule the FCC issued in January, which aimed to revamp the Rural Health Care Program. Under the proposed rule, the FCC would examine whether to increase the $400 million cap for the program and determine whether it would be appropriate to retroactively raise the cap for funding year 2017.

The AHA submitted comments to the FCC in February in support of the proposed rule, urging the agency to continue to raise the cap each year at the rate of inflation.

"The RHC Program funding cap should be significantly increased to keep pace with growing connectivity demand," the AHA wrote in February. "EHRs, technology-based patient engagement strategies, health information sharing for coordinated care and remote-monitoring technologies all require robust broadband connections."

To access the AHA's April 24 letter, click here.

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