• The Federal Communications Commission added $ 198 million to its rural health program to help providers implement broadband health networks, the agency said Tuesday.
• Unspent funds from prior years carry over to 2020. With a current funding cap of approximately $ 600 million, there is a total of more than $ 800 million available for vendor complaints, the highest in the history of the program.
• In a statement, FCC President Ajit Pai noted that funding for telemedicine is particularly important as the nation battles COVID-19 and the use of virtual tours has skyrocketed. “Today’s announcement demonstrates the FCC’s commitment to ensuring that rural health workers can serve their communities in times of trouble and into the future.
As the southern and western states become new hot spots for COVID-19, rural providers face great challenges preparing for patient exacerbations, while maintaining the ability to meet other patient needs in their homes. communities.
Virtual tours were the primary means by which providers could continue their services without potentially exposing more people to the new coronavirus. However, rural areas in particular may not have consistent access to high-speed Internet connections.
The FCC program is trying to solve this problem. Two years ago, the funding ceiling was increased and changed each year to take inflation into account. A procedure was also implemented at this point to allow the transfer of unused funds.
Under the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, the FCC also established the COVID-19 telemedicine program, which a week ago allocated nearly $ 160 million to 444 candidates. The application window was closed last week.
However, Democratic lawmakers protested the program’s lack of transparency. In a letter to Pai, Representatives Frank Pallone of New York and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania wrote: “We have heard reports that many healthcare workers are having trouble obtaining funding, especially those serving on tribal lands.” Similarly, healthcare professionals report that they have been unable to obtain funding for some key telemedicine devices that we believe should be regulated by law. “”
Before the pandemic, the FCC conducted a pilot program to improve access to telemedicine services for low-income and rural people. The three-year, $ 100 million programs offer an 85% discount on broadband telemedicine services that connect doctors and patients directly.