A speech made by FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel late last
week should serve as a reminder to rural network operators that
changes to the FCC's rural healthcare program will begin kicking in
"We have a new Healthcare Connect Fund that is part of the $400
million the agency makes available annually to rural healthcare
providers through its universal service program," said Rosenworcel
in an address at the American Telemedicine Association Federal
Policy Summit in Washington D.C. on Friday. "Under the program,
eligible healthcare providers can apply to receive funding to cover
65% of the cost of either broadband services or healthcare
The program Rosenworcel references was formalized in an order
adopted by the FCC back in December. At that time the FCC
essentially modified an existing program and gave it the new
Healthcare Connect Fund name. Modifications included expanding
eligibility as well as what could be covered. The moves were
made after a pilot test of some of the modifications. A cap on
total annual funding also was imposed at the time the order was
As Rosenworcel explained in Friday's address, funding for
applicants to the new program will begin on January 1, 2014.
Although Rosenworcel did not discuss the filing window for new
applicants, the commission all along has said it would open "late
summer 2013" and a timeline currently posted on the Universal
Service Administrative Company site shows that the filing
window for the new program will open in August or September.
In her speech, Rosenworcel positioned rural healthcare
initiatives such as telemedicine as a way of reducing healthcare
costs as well as enhancing care. "With the cost of healthcare in
the United States projected to be nearly $3 trillion this year, we
should seize solutions that can reduce costs while also improving
medical outcomes and patient care," she said. "Telemedicine is one
of those solutions."
She also noted, however, that more work needs to be done to help
rural healthcare initiatives such as telemedicine reach their full
potential. For example, she said, reimbursement for telemedicine
services for Medicare patients is "restricted to very limited
She encouraged people to study the Service Members' Telemedicine
and E-Health Portability Act, which she said has helped streamline
telemedicine rules across the country.
Rural telco group weighs in
Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of rural broadband association NTCA,
yesterday issued a statement praising the changes to the rural
healthcare program and emphasizing the role that rural network
operators can play in supporting rural healthcare.
"The benefits of these services are huge for rural Americans,
who in many cases are required to travel great distances to receive
medical treatment," said Bloomfield. "With the introduction of
technologies such as remote diagnostics and in-home monitoring,
folks in rural America are able to give and receive treatments more
efficiently, saving money and time and often improving the quality
of care . . . Small independent telecommunications providers are
working every day to build the broadband future for rural America,
and we look forward to continuing our collaboration with the
commission and other federal policymakers to bring high-speed
connections and accompanying health and economic benefits to all
Americans - no matter where they live."
Original article can be found here.