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Bill Looks to Improve Healthcare Access for Rural Communities

August 5, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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A new bill as been introduced into Congress that would permit skilled nursing facilities (SNF) to apply for support from the Universal Service Fund’s (USF) Rural Health Care Program (RHCP) and allow them to receive funding for telecommunications and broadband services.

The bill, S. 1916, the Rural Health Care Connectivity Act of 2015, was introduced by U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) who serves as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the USF. The USF’s RHCP provides funding for telecommunications and broadband services used to provide healthcare in rural communities. The Communications Act specifies which types of healthcare providers are eligible to receive RHCP support, of which SNFs are currently not included.

When the FCC updated the RHCP and created the Healthcare Connect Fund in 2012, it proposed to implement a pilot program to examine funding SNFs. In January 2014, the FCC deferred implementation of the pilot program, and in June 2014, Thune sent a letter to the FCC urging it to resume implementation of the pilot program.

In a statement that accompanied the bill, Thune said, “For many South Dakotans, it is not as easy as jumping in the car and driving down to the local hospital for a checkup, which is why access to rural health care, including telemedicine, is such an important issue for South Dakota families. He continued,
“This common-sense bill would support and improve the healthcare services that skilled nursing facilities can provide to our rural communities by allowing them access to much-needed funds that are currently out of reach. My legislation achieves this goal without raising the existing cap on the Universal Service Fund.” 

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