WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, yesterday joined a bipartisan group of 30 U.S. Senators in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to strengthen a program aimed at improving health care in rural communities through services like telehealth that rely on increased connectivity.
In the letter, the senators urged the FCC to increase the funding cap for the Rural Health Care Program to address the shortage of broadband access for rural health care providers. Despite growing demand, the program hasn’t received a funding increase since it was created in 1997.
“The FCC initially established the Telecommunications Program to ensure that rural hospitals and health care providers did not pay more for telecommunications services than their urban counterparts,” the senators wrote. “Since then, the program has grown to include the Healthcare Connect Fund, which provides financial support to consortia that build out broadband networks to connect rural and urban health care providers.”
The senators continued, “Unless the spending cap is raised appropriately to account for current needs and future growth, health care providers in rural areas will encounter severe rate increases for their broadband services, making it even harder for rural health care practitioners to engage in life-saving telemedicine.”
As chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services, Blunt has also prioritized resources to expand telehealth in rural areas. This year’s government funding bill, which was signed into law in March, provided $23.5 million, a $5 million increase over the FY2017 level, to expand the use of telecommunications technologies within rural areas that can link rural health providers and patients with specialists.