FCC chairman proposes $171M raise in funding for agency's rural telehealth program

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai issued a draft order June 6 proposing a $171 million increase in funding for the agency's Rural Health Care Program.

The Rural Health Care Program provides eligible healthcare providers with funding for broadband and telecommunications services used to enhance high-quality care. In recent years, demand for the program has exceeded its allocated funding, which has been capped at $400 million per year since the program's inception in 1997.

Mr. Pai suggested raising the program's annual funding cap to $571 million — the funding level the Rural Health Care Program would have today if the $400 million established in 1997 was adjusted for inflation. The order would apply the new cap to the program's current funding year, which runs through June 30.

"As the son of two doctors in rural Kansas, and having visited telemedicine projects from Alaska to Florida, I understand the critical role that broadband plays in giving patients in rural areas high-quality health care services," Mr. Pai said in a June 6 statement. "I hope my colleagues will support my plan without delay."

Mr. Pai's draft order builds on a proposed rule the FCC released in January to revamp the Rural Health Care Program, which included an emphasis on examining whether to increase the program's funding cap.

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