FCC introduces funding increase for rural telehealth

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai introduced a draft order to increase funding allocated to the Universal Service Fund’s Rural Health Care Program. 

The program’s current annual funding is capped at $400 million, which was set in 1997 and never adjusted for inflation. The draft, which would take immediate action in increasing funding, accounts for inflation and raised the funding cap to $571 million. The immediate increase in funding would help rural healthcare providers to continue treating patients through telehealth. Additionally, the funding would give providers a sense of security by adjusting the cap annually for inflation and allowing unused money to carry over year to year.

“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,” Pai said. “That’s why I’m pleased to announce my plan to increase funding for the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program by $171 million.  This money will help health care providers get the connectivity they need to better serve patients throughout rural America.  This is an important step to allow these providers to continue offering critical telemedicine services in their rural communities.  Healthcare has become increasingly reliant on connectivity over the past two decades, and this proposal reflects the need to keep pace with this evolution.