News, Policy, Telemedicine

FCC adds another $198M into rural health program

Seeing an uptick in demand, the Federal Communications Commission said it would add another $198 million in unused funds into its rural healthcare program. The pool of funds can be used by rural providers to provide broadband and telecommunications services.

Seeing an increased demand for telehealth infrastructure, the Federal Communications Commission topped off funding for its Rural Health Care Program. Normally, funding for the program would be capped at $604.76 million for 2020. But with additional funds rolled over from previous years, it will now be able to dole out $802.74 million to healthcare providers, the most in the program’s history.

The fund is used to give rural healthcare providers access to telecommunications and broadband services to help them better care for their patients. For example, local community health centers, health departments, nursing homes and nonprofit hospitals could put the funds to use.

Since demand for the funding began to increase in recent years, the FCC moved in 2018 to increase the funding cap and allow the program to carry forward unused funds from previous years.

“And now, more than ever, our foresight is fortuitous, as telehealth is proving to be critical in our fight against COVID-19. Today’s announcement speaks to the FCC’s commitment to ensuring that rural health care providers can continue to serve their communities during this difficult time and well into the future,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a news release.

As healthcare providers have seen skyrocketing demand for telehealth during the Covid-19 pandemic, lawmakers have taken note. Earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions discussed what telehealth policy changes should stay after the pandemic ends. In addition to changed regulations, lawmakers and the four experts who testified noted the need for improved infrastructure, so as to not exclude patients who might not have broadband connectivity at home.

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