- Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has announced his plan to significantly increase funding for the Universal Service Fund’s Rural Healthcare Program, an initiative that would improve telemedicine in rural areas.
The program’s current annual funding cap is $400 million, an amount that was set in 1997 and never indexed for inflation.
Recent demand for funding for the program has outpaced the budget, which has created uncertainty for patients, healthcare providers, and communications companies.
Chairman Pai is seeking to increase the annual cap to $571 million, which represents what the funding level would be today if the 1997 cap had included an inflation adjustment.
“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. I’m pleased to announce my plan to increase funding for the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program by $171 million,” Chairman Pai said.
“This money will help health care providers get the connectivity they need to better serve patients throughout rural America. Demand for funding has been outpacing the program’s funding cap, so I also believe that the increased cap should apply to the current funding year so that rural health care providers can be fully reimbursed.”
The order from Pai will apply the increased cap to the current year and immediately address a critical funding crisis. It will also enable providers to continue to offer telemedicine services.
Additionally, the order will give providers long-term certainty about universal service funding by adjusting the cap annually for inflation and allowing unused funds from past years to carry forward to future years.
“This is an important step to allow these providers to continue offering critical telemedicine services in their rural communities,” Pai concluded.
“Health care has become increasingly reliant on connectivity over the past two decades, and this proposal reflects the need to keep pace with this evolution. I hope my colleagues will support my plan without delay.”