New FCC Fund to Boost Broadband Connections for Rural Healthcare Providers
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has earmarked up to $400 million for the new Healthcare Connect Fund to help expand rural health care providers' access to high-bandwidth connections.
The existing Rural Health Care program, established in 1996, hasn't done enough to provide healthcare facilities with remote access over high-speed networks, the agency says. It points to a report issued last summer highlighting successes from its Rural Health Care Pilot Program, launched in 2006, to better understand how to understand how to support high-speed networks.
Those include a South Carolina consortium that saved $18 million in Medicaid costs by using telepyschiatry, and a group of health care providers in the Midwest that saved $1.2 million in patient electronic intensive care unit services.
The FCC says the new Healthcare Connect Fund will help expand access to high-bandwidth connections by:
- Removing artificial limitations on technology and provider type that hampered legacy universal service health care support.
- Encouraging consortia between smaller rural health care providers and urban medical centers to enable remote hospitals and clinics to draw on the medical, technical and administrative resources of larger providers.
- Increasing fiscal responsibility by requiring participants to contribute 35 percent of the costs, while offering lower rates through group buying.
- It also will launch a new competitive pilot program to expand broadband networks to skilled nursing facilities. Up to $50 million over three years will be available for those pilots.