For Immediate Release:
June 6, 2018
Communications Manager, SHLB Coalition
Washington, DC (June 6, 2018) – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai circulated today a draft order to raise the cap of the Rural Health Care (RHC) program from $400 million to $571 million to reflect inflation over the past twenty years. The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, a broad-based membership organization that includes health providers and telehealth networks, has been advocating for RHC funding and reform since December of 2015 and commends the Chairman’s announcement in favor of more funding.
The following statement can be attributed to John Windhausen, Jr., Executive Director of SHLB:
“The SHLB Coalition is extremely pleased with Chairman Pai’s intention to increase funding for the Rural Health Care program. This increase is long overdue, as the $400 M cap on the RHC program has remained set in stone for over twenty years. This proposal also addresses our concerns about the retroactive funding reductions for FY 2017 by ensuring that applicants in the current funding year can be fully reimbursed. This action will avoid the unfortunate 15% to 25% reductions that had been announced for the current funding year. While we have not seen the entire proposal, we are encouraged that Chairman Pai has taken our concerns to heart and is responding to the SHLB Coalition’s Emergency Waiver Petition and the request by 31 US Senators – led by Senators Heitkamp and Hoeven – for more funding for the program.”
The FCC launched a proceeding to reform the RHC program in December of 2017. In our comments filed with the FCC, the SHLB Coalition estimated that the number of eligible entities has more than doubled since the $400 million cap was set in 1997 and asked for the cap to be raised to $800 M to account for future demand. The SHLB Coalition also filed an Emergency Waiver Petition earlier this year asking the FCC to fully fund applicants for FY2017 and to avoid the retroactive rate increases on services provided as of July 1, 2017. SHLB has pointed out that the $400 M cap does not reflect the enormous changes in the rural health care marketplace, including the closure of scores of rural hospitals, the improvements in telemedicine, the growth of electronic medical records, the doubling of eligible health care providers, and the rural broadband gap.
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.