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Senate Committee Advances Rural Health Care Connectivity Act

November 24, 2015
by Heather Landi
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The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last week passed a bipartisan bill that would enable rural nursing facilities to tap into funding from the government’s Universal Service Fund for telecommunications and broadband services.

Introduced earlier this year by U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, the Rural Health Care Connectivity Act (S. 1916) would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to permit skilled nursing facilities (SNF) to be eligible to apply for support from the Universal Service Fund’s (USF) Rural Health Care Program (RHCP). The USF’s RHCP provides funding for telecommunications and broadband services used to promote health care in rural communities.

In 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) updated the RHCP and created the Healthcare Connect Fund, which proposed implementing a pilot program to examine funding SNFs, according a press release from Sen. Thune.  In January 2014, the FCC deferred implementation of the pilot program, claiming it needed additional statutory authority to allow SNFs to be eligible.

“I’m glad the Commerce Committee approved this important legislation, which will help support and improve the services that skilled nursing facilities, like the ones operated throughout the country by Sioux Falls-based Good Samaritan Society, provide to rural America,” Thune said in a statement. “We must continue to work toward bringing health care to rural communities that don’t have the access and availability afforded to more urban areas, which is why I’m hopeful the full Senate will be able to consider this legislation without delay.”

The bill will now be reported to the full Senate for consideration.

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