WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined a bipartisan group of 30 U.S. Senators in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to increase the funding cap for a program aimed at improving the quality of health care available to patients in rural areas.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the Senators highlight the need to strengthen the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program to address the shortage of broadband connectivity for rural health care providers. The program has been improving the quality of health care available in rural America since 1997, but has never seen a funding increase despite increased demand. In New Mexico, more than 30 health care providers receive funding through the RHC program. Without this funding, many providers could not afford the broadband needed to support their network requirements and address the health care needs of their patients. This is especially important in rural Tribal communities, where behavioral health services and suicide prevention efforts are underway using telehealth.
“In 2016, for the first time ever, the demand for RHC funding exceeded the cap and funding to recipients was reduced by 7.5 percent,” the Senators wrote. “Further, it was recently announced that RHC applicants will suffer a devastating cutback in funding of 16 to 26 percent in funding year 2017 because of continued growth in demand. Unless the spending cap is raised appropriately to account for current needs and future growth, health care providers in rural areas will encounter severe rate increases for their broadband services, making it even harder for rural health care practitioners to engage in life-saving telemedicine.”
The funding provided through the FCC’s RHC Program are critical to providing telehealth services and health information exchange needed by resource-limited healthcare providers.
The letter led by U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp was also signed by U.S. Senators John Hoeven (R-ND), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Bob Casey (D-PA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Shelley Capito (R-WV), Angus King (I-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jon Tester (D-MT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Doug Jones (D-AL), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Joe Donnelly (D-IN).
A copy of the letter is available here.