Senators Urge FCC to Address Funding Shortfall for Telemedicine Subsidies

February 26, 2017–Six senators from Maine, New Hampshire, and New Mexico today urged the FCC to address the “unexpected recent surge” in requests that have depleted the fiscal 2016 $400 million budget for the Rural Health Care (RHC) program, saying that telehealth networks serving their constituents would be harmed if no more funding is available in the current funding year. Sens. Susan Collins (R., Maine), Angus King (I., Maine), Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.), Tom Udall (D., N.M.), and Martin Heinrich (D., N.M.) asked the FCC “to take steps to leverage existing funding to avoid these reductions.”

Specifically, the senators urged the FCC to adopt a proposal recently submitted by the New England Telehealth Consortium, the Schools, Health & Libraries  Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, and others for the Commission to “establish a mechanism similar to that in the E-rate program to allow previously committed but unexpended RHC funds from prior years be made available for current applicants.”

The senators also suggested that the $90 million in funding for an RHC pilot program that the Universal Service Administrative Co. has said “may be available” could be used for the general RHC program. The senators noted that the USAC announced Jan. 13 that it was canceling the third filing window for the current fiscal year “because all of the funding for FY 2016 has been exhausted, due to high demand.”

Because of this, newly eligible skilled nursing facilities will not be able to receive funding this year, and “existing healthcare providers that have relied on funding over the last several years may not receive the same funding they have received in years past and may have to drop some of their broadband connections, causing disruption and harm to patient care,” the senators said. —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily