FCC Notice Calls for Increased Support for Rural Health Care Program

A draft notice that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is finalizing would begin a rulemaking to review the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program and ensure that Americans have access to advanced telehealth services no matter where they live. The document would seek comment on the appropriate budget level for the RHC Program, as well as seek comment on proposals to promote efficient purchasing and to curtail waste, fraud, and abuse.  The Order would grant relief to rural healthcare providers facing potential cuts in Funding Year (FY) 2017. 

HIMSS is reviewing the draft notice and order from FCC and determining where it can offer comments and further thoughts.  HIMSS highlighted this issue in its 2017 Congressional Asks, and is calling on Congress to support investments in broadband and public health surveillance systems and workforce initiatives to optimize use of innovative technologies and support robust public health monitoring and crisis response. Specifically, HIMSS is asking Congress to continue to support broadband deployment, particularly for the provision of vital rural healthcare services and support for full funding of the program by increasing the $400 million funding cap to a suitable level that accounts for the increase in demand and the advances in technology capabilities.  

As background, FCC’s RHC Program supports access to vital telehealth services and helps rural communities overcome obstacles to accessing healthcare. However, for the second year in a row, demand is likely to exceed available RHC Program support, leaving participating healthcare providers with unanticipated cuts in funding. The current RHC Program rules also allow for inefficient use of funds, and create opportunities for waste, fraud, and abuse. 

This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order would seek comment on increasing the RHC Program’s $400 million annual cap and creating a prioritization mechanism in the event of demand exceeding the cap, and waive the RHC Program’s cap on a one-time basis and instruct the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to carry forward any unused RHC Program funds from prior funding years for use in FY 2017.