FCC to consider rural telehealth proposal in December

Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, released a proposal to increase funding for the agency's Rural Health Care Program Nov. 22 as part of his tentative agenda for the agency's December meeting.

The meeting, scheduled for Dec. 14 and open to the public, will take place at the FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C. The meeting will consider the proposal — a notice of proposed rulemaking and order called "Promoting Telehealth in Rural America" — among other items on the agenda, such as the controversial proposition to reverse net neutrality rules.

The Rural Health Care Program provides eligible healthcare providers with funding for broadband and telecommunications services that enhance high-quality care. Under the proposal, the FCC would review the program, with an emphasis on assessing an "appropriate budget level" for its services, according to an agency fact sheet accompanying the proposal.

The proposal seeks to increase the program's funding, which is capped at $400 million each year. It would waive the Rural Health Care Program's cap on a one-time basis and instruct the Universal Service Administrative Co. — an independent nonprofit designated by the FCC — to carry over unused program funds from prior years for use in fiscal year 2017.

"The FCC's Rural Health Care Program supports access to vital telehealth services and helps rural communities overcome obstacles to accessing healthcare," reads the fact sheet. "However, for the second year in a row, demand is likely to exceed available RHC Program support, leaving participating healthcare providers with unanticipated cuts in funding."

To access the "Promoting Telehealth in Rural America" proposal, click here.

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