FCC asks for comments on rural health program for broadband

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering changes to the popular Rural Health Care Program (RHCP), a fund that helps rural health providers access broadband for telehealth and health information exchange. The RHCP is capped at $400 million per year, but for the last two years, requests exceeded the cap.

With increased attention to broadband’s role in rural development generally and its role in healthcare delivery specifically, many stakeholders believe demand on the RHCP will continue to increase, particularly in states with large rural areas. The National Rural Health Association and the American Hospital Association have called for raising the cap to keep up with demand. One analyst noted that the RHCP is a victim of its own success as more providers have turned to the fund due to both growing interest in telehealth and the need for broadband to comply with federal regulations on health information technology. Additionally, Congress recently made skilled nursing facilities eligible to participate, increasing the number of providers potentially able to apply for funding.

In response, the FCC is seeking public comments on possible changes to the RHCP, including raising the RHCP cap. However, the FCC questioned whether increasing the cap will lead to greater incidents of waste, fraud, and abuse. Additionally, the FCC is interested in comments on whether the FCC should adopt certain factors to prioritize which providers should receive a grant.

Interested parties must submit comments by February 2.