The FCC has adopted an order mandating the full funding of all eligible Rural Health Care Program services for the current year. The move, part of the federal government’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be made possible by an increase in funding of $42.19 million.
The order aims to ensure that health care providers can promote tele-health services. “This is a critically important step that the FCC took today, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a press release. “COVID-19 presents serious challenges to healthcare providers, and they need every tool in the toolbox at their disposal, particularly the enhanced connectivity that enables them to provide vital healthcare services to the American public. Today’s Order ensures that rural Americans will have access to the health care services they need.”
FCC Rural Health Care Funding Increase
Funding for the Rural Health Care Program last year was $719.48 million, which exceeded the $677.29 million in previously available funding. The order enables the United Service Administrative Company (USAC), which administers the program, to carry forward additional unused funds from prior years to cover the funding gap. It also waives the cap on multi-year commitments and upfront payments that would result in reductions in support for health care providers and patients, the FCC said in the press release.
Last week, Pai urged ISPs to boost speeds, lower costs, delay disconnects, offer billing relief and make WiFi hot spots free to combat the coronavirus. Pai outlined his call by asking broadband providers to agree to a “Keep Americans Connected Pledge.”
The pandemic will present unique and serious challenges to rural areas. Tele-health can be deployed quickly and could be especially effective.