The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is making a number of changes to the rules and provisions for its Rural Health Care telehealth program after a surge in participation, with the new regulations being released in the Federal Register today.

The changes to the program were sparked by the FCC’s desire to manage costs as the program looks to meet increased demand to fund broadband and communications services at rural medical facilities.

“This increased demand and resulting administrative challenges required the Commission to take a closer look at whether the current rules and procedures are cost-effective and efficient and adequately protect the Universal Service Fund against waste, fraud, and abuse,” the notice states.

As the Rural Health Care program supports rural hospitals by subsidizing equipment and telecommunications costs so they are comparable with urban-area levels, the main change is the move to set urban and rural rates at the agency level, rather than have rural health providers offer the rates to be verified by the FCC.

In addition to the agency setting the rates, the rates will now be publicly available, rather than part of a private application from the rural health provider.

“The Commission … believes that having rates determined by the Administrator will greatly lessen the administrative burden that rural health providers (and their carriers) currently experience,” the FCC states.

The commission also removed limits on satellite services, set prioritization criteria, and allowed for the program’s funding cap of $150 million to rise with inflation.

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MeriTalk Staff