FCC votes to raise rural telehealth funding by $171M

The majority of commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission voted in favor of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to increase funding for the agency's Rural Health Care Program, Mr. Pai announced June 14.

Mr. Pai released a draft order June 6 proposing a $171 million increase in funding for the program, highlighting the increasingly critical role broadband plays in providing rural patients with access to healthcare services. The Rural Health Care Program provides eligible healthcare providers with funding for broadband and telecommunications services to enhance high-quality care.

In recent years, demand for the program had exceeded its allocated funding, which has been capped at $400 million per year since the program's inception in 1997. Mr. Pai's proposal applies a new cap of $571 million to the program's current funding year, which runs through June 30.

"[The update] will help rural healthcare providers deliver critical telemedicine services to Americans across the country," Mr. Pai said in a statement following the vote, noting the role telecommunications technology plays in dispensing clinical care from a distance. "Telemedicine is vital in many communities that may not otherwise have access to high-quality healthcare, and the Federal Communications Commission has an important role in promoting it."

The American Hospital Association, which had penned a letter to the FCC urging the agency to increase the Rural Health Care Program's funding in April, expressed support for Mr. Pai's proposal in a June 6 statement.

"This funding is critical to improve the lives of rural Americans now more than ever since innovations in healthcare demand connectivity for telehealth, remote monitoring, patient engagement and daily operations," AHA Executive Vice President of Government Relations and Public Policy Tom Nickels said in the statement.

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