Senators introduce rural telehealth legislation

Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, have introduced a bill to expand access to rural telehealth services. The “Reaching Underserved Rural Areas to Lead on Telehealth Act," or RURAL, would allow non-rural hospitals severing rural areas to qualify for support from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF).

“Telehealth services are critical to increasing rural Americans’ access to quality care,” Wicker said. “Mississippi is leading the nation in developing telehealth technology. Our health-care providers have demonstrated that targeted investments in telehealth can increase access to life-saving services and drive down costs.”

Previously, the 2013 establishment of the HCF provided support for telehealth and information services for eligible healthcare providers. This bill aims to expand these existing policies to allows non-rural members of telehealth to qualify for the 65 percent of healthcare provided connectivity discount as long as the majority serves patient in rural areas.

“Our bill will give telehealth service providers better incentives to serve more rural areas,” Schatz said. “Ultimately, that is good news for anyone who cares about expanding access to health care in Hawai‘i and other rural areas across the country.”