AHA to FCC: 'Significantly increase' Rural Health Care Program funding to address internet connectivity concerns

The American Hospital Association penned a letter Feb. 2 to the Federal Communications Commission urging the agency to increase funding for its Rural Health Care Program.

The FCC issued a proposed rule Jan. 3 to revamp its Rural Health Care Program, which provides eligible healthcare providers with funding for broadband services to enhance their quality of care. Under the proposed rule, the FCC would consider an increase in the program's annual funding cap, which has remained stagnant at $400 million since the program's inception in 1997.

Telehealth will likely prove useful to overcoming barriers rural patients face when accessing healthcare services, according to the AHA. However, the group argued the Rural Health Care Program's potential has been "limited" by the $400 million spending cap, which is "insufficient to meet the costs associated with delivering high-capacity broadband-enabled telehealth services."

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

To address this issue, the AHA suggested the FCC retroactively increase the program's funding cap for fiscal year 2017, and continue to raise the gap each year at the rate of inflation. Using the Gross Domestic Product Chain-type Price Index, the AHA noted if the FCC had adjusted the $400 million cap annually for inflation since 1997, it would be roughly $571 million for fiscal year 2017.

The AHA also recommended the FCC conduct a detailed assessment of demand for broadband-enabled healthcare services to "more accurately set a program cap based on projected demand necessary to meet the needs of rural healthcare providers and their patients."

"The RHC Program funding cap must be increased to support the growing demand for broadband at rural healthcare providers," the letter reads.

To access the AHA's letter, click here.

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