Jul 14 2016
Bipartisan Measure Would Expand Provider Access to Healthcare Connect Fund
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, have introduced a new bipartisan measure to expand access to rural telehealth services by allowing non-rural hospitals and health-care providers that service rural areas to make better use of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF).
Specifically, the “Reaching Underserved Rural Areas to Lead (RURAL) on Telehealth Act,” S. 3218, would allow these non-rural providers to qualify for the 65 percent health-care provider discount under the HCF so long as the majority of the locations serving patients are in rural areas.
“Mississippians are among the first to know that telehealth works,” Sen. Wicker said. “This legislation would increase access to prime services, which improves our quality of life and drives down the costs of health care. It would achieve this goal by expanding the types of providers who can tap into existing federal funds, helping offset the costs of delivering life-saving care.”
“Telehealth is expanding access to health care in Hawai‘i and across the country, and we should be doing everything we can to support it,” said Sen. Schatz. “Our bill updates current laws to expand access to federal telehealth funding and help more people get the health care they need.”
Large organizations designated as non-rural are often the lead center for telehealth, providing services to rural health-care providers throughout a given state. Because the administrative responsibility and expertise required for these efforts is often challenging, larger organizations typically serve as the consortium lead.
In 1996, Congress mandated that the FCC use the Universal Service Fund (USF) to provide support for telecommunications, advanced telecommunications, and information services for eligible healthcare providers. Providers use these services to deliver telemedicine, transmit health records, and conduct other telehealth activities for improving patient care and reducing health-care costs.