CHIME asks FCC to double funding for Rural Health Care Program

The agency should also consider directing those funds to areas most impacted by the opioid crisis, typically rural areas with poor populations.
By Jessica Davis
02:06 PM
rural healthcare

CHIME is asking FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to raise the funding cap for its rural healthcare program.  Credit: C-span

CHIME is asking the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to consider doubling the annual funding cap for the Rural Health Care Program to $800 million to better meet demands.

The FCC opened a comment period for the RHC program in November, proposing a waive of the current $400 million annual cap on a one-time basis. The agency also is considering making that change permanent.

CHIME CEO and President Russell Branzell and Board of Trustees Chair Cletis Earle, who also is CIO and vice president at Kaleida Health, sent the agency a letter last week in response, noting the funding cap for the program hasn’t changed since the program’s inception in 1992.

The increase should be retroactive as “the need to connect to skilled nursing facilities will drive the demand even higher,” they wrote.

Those funds should be directed to the greatest areas of need, especially those most impacted by the opioid crisis. Branzell and Earle explained those in rural areas “can be particularly vulnerable to opioid addiction.” And CDC data also suggests opioid misuse and deaths are higher in poor and rural areas.

The FCC also should work with other federal agencies on telemedicine programs to help combat the opioid epidemic, they wrote.

By working with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Office of the National Coordinator, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Health Resources & Services Administration, the FCC could bring more attention to the epidemic.

Further, CHIME recommends FCC establish a national broadband strategy to aid help with telemedicine capabilities – and that strategy should be vendor-neutral.

The FCC issued a proposed rulemaking at the beginning of the year, which includes lifting the funding cap, prioritizing funding for rural areas, and reviewing the Telecom Program that hasn’t been seriously evaluated or changed in 10 years.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
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