FCC Telehealth Order Makes Progress But Creates More Uncertainty August 01, 2019
For Immediate Release
Washington, D.C. (August 1, 2019) - Today amidst an urgent need for more telemedicine funding, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a Report and Order (R&O) to reform the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program. The R&O attempts to clarify the operation of the program, but it raises several new questions.
John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, made the following statement:
“The Rural Health Care program has been in sore need of greater clarity, and we appreciate that the FCC Order adopted today makes some improvements to the program. At the same time, we are concerned that the R&O adopts many new rules regarding the calculation of rates and the allocation of funding that have not been fully analyzed. The R&O delegates unprecedented rate-setting authority to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), does not include specific maps of the new rural categories, reduces funding for consortia applicants, and fails to analyze the impact of the proposed changes on rural healthcare providers before adopting these reforms. We fear that applicants will face some of the same uncertain, inconsistent, and delayed funding decisions that have plagued the program over the past two years. That said, the Commission and USAC have always kept an open door, and we look forward to working closely with them to resolve these outstanding questions in the next few months.”
The SHLB Coalition recently detailed its concerns with the R&O in two ex parte letters to the FCC on July 22 and July 25, asking that it clarify these open issues and seek further comment in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
The SHLB Coalition previously filed comments and reply comments in the FCC’s WC Docket No. 17-310 with the following four main recommendations to reform the Universal Service Fund program: 1) Increase the cap to $800 million to meet the current demand; 2) Encourage the formation of consortia in the Healthcare Connect Fund; 3) Establish funding tiers to ensure funds are distributed to the most rural areas; and 4) Improve administrative efficiency, transparency, and protection against waste, fraud, and abuse. Visit http://www.shlb.org/policy/Rural-Health-Care to learn more about SHLB’s advocacy to improve our nation’s telehealth.
The SHLB Coalition is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) advocacy organization that supports open, affordable, high-quality broadband connections for anchor institutions and their surrounding communities. The SHLB Coalition is based in Washington, D.C. and has a diverse membership of commercial and non-commercial organizations from across the United States. To learn more, visit www.shlb.org.