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AHA: FCC Should Expand Telehealth, Broadband to Rural Regions

The AHA is urging the FCC to expand telehealth and broadband resources to rural communities in an effort to improve care quality and access.

AHA urges the FCC to expand telehealth and broadband resources to rural patients

Source: Thinkstock

By Thomas Beaton

- More funding for telehealth providers and an expansion of broadband infrastructure into rural regions will support a growing demand for access to care, said the American Hospital Association (AHA) in comments to the FCC related to the Rural Health Care Program (RHC).

Proposing several amendments to the program, the AHA said that the FCC’s Health Care Connect Fund should support 85 percent of the broadband costs for providers that deliver telehealth services. This would result in a 15 percent increase from the current rate of 65 percent.

AHA wants the RHC program to make more communities eligible for broadband funding by creating a more inclusive definition of a “rural” community. The current definition used by the RHC excludes geographic areas that were once considered rural due to a growth in population. AHA argues that these communities should not be excluded from the RHC program since population growth doesn’t necessarily indicate an improvement in a community’s healthcare resources.

Approximately 60 million Americans, or one-fifth of the population, live in rural communities, the AHA says. As more of these communities seek better access to healthcare, providers will require enhanced fiscal resources to deliver high quality services.

While the RHC program offers funding for providers, AHA believes its amendments can adjust the program to effectively fund, extend, and administer rural telehealth services.

The first of these proposed amendments would raise the $400 million funding cap on the RHC program. The program exceeded this cap in 2016.  The benchmark was established 20 years ago, and does not account for current spending needs related to developing broadband infrastructure that can support telehealth, the AHA says.

The AHA also calls on the FCC to assist with administrative expenses such as network design, construction, and contract administration.

Along with telehealth, AHA says that the RHC program should allow remote patient monitoring as a necessary expense under the program.  Improved monitoring could produce better patient outcomes and generate cost savings from reduced utilization.

With these suggestions, the AHA hopes the FCC will utilize the proper resources to close gaps in telemedicine connectivity based on the geographical location of patients.

“The AHA appreciates the Commission’s dedication to improving the administration of the RHC Program to meet the broadband connectivity needs of rural health care providers,” said Ashley Thompson, Senior Vice President of Public Policy Analysis and Development at AHA.

“With modest changes to the HCF, the FCC can incent greater participation and further expansion of broad, closing this aspect of the digital divide, and improving the lives of rural Americans.” 

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