Coming on the heels of the FCC’s recently proposed $100 million Connected Care Program to fund telehealth-based connections between healthcare providers and patients, and continuing its recognition of the critical role telehealth plays in the healthcare industry, the FCC recently voted to adopt an extensive order overhauling the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program. The RHC Program has been supportive of telehealth services for some time, providing subsidies to rural healthcare providers to lower the expense of their broadband services, including monthly telecom and broadband recurring costs, and funding for special construction and network equipment where the healthcare provider otherwise lacks access to telecom or broadband facilities. (Read our prior blog on the FCC’s proposal.

The RHC Program has significant funding—over $571 million—and this reform is designed to streamline certain procedures, provide priority to rural healthcare in areas that are medically underserved, simplify the calculation of amounts that healthcare providers pay and service providers receive, reform the competitive bidding process, and improve the application process. The FCC intends for these comprehensive program changes to support vital telemedicine and telehealth services in rural communities while promoting efficiency and transparency and avoiding waste, fraud, and abuse.

This comprehensive overhaul is relevant to healthcare organizations that are already participating in the RHC program or that are interested in participating in the future. The rulemaking reform by the FCC will impact nearly all aspects of the RHC program. Specifically, the reform

  • adopts prioritization rules that ensure eligible healthcare institutions serving rural and medically underserved areas continue to receive RHC funding when demand exceeds the budget;
  • eases administrative burdens for applicants by increasing the amount of time to apply, increasing the availability of deadline extensions, and clarifying the RHC program’s requirements; and
  • aims to improve the RHC program’s administration to provide healthcare institutions quicker and more understandable funding decisions.

If your organization has previously received funds through the RHC or is thinking about doing so in the future, it is important to understand the application process and the procedural requirements for maintaining this funding. As telehealth continues its march toward becoming a mainstay healthcare modality, all healthcare providers should plan on integrating aspects of telehealth into their treatment operations. We will continue to monitor the FCC’s updates on telehealth.