PRESS RELEASE: SHLB IMPLORES THE FCC TO PROVIDE EMERGENCY RELIEF FOR FY 2017 RURAL HEALTH CARE PROGRAM APPLICANTS
April 3, 2018
Press Release via SHLB.org
Communications Manager, SHLB Coalition
The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, a broad-based membership organization that includes health providers and telehealth networks, filed an emergency petition today with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) asking it to waive the Rural Health Care (RHC) program’s $400 million funding cap and fully fund qualified applications until the open rulemaking proceeding to reform the program concludes.
The Universal Service Administrative Company’s (USAC) recent announcement that it will cut funding by over 15% for individual RHC applicants and 25% for consortium applicants for Funding Year 2017 (FY2017) will severely degrade the quality of healthcare in rural America. The announced funding cuts were much larger than the 7.5% reduction for FY2016 and were announced over eight months into the funding year. These severe cuts in funding effectively impose retroactive rate increases on healthcare providers who have been receiving service from July 1, 2017.
“Health care providers from Alaska to New England will face significant financial hardship from this unexpected funding decrease, potentially resulting in downgraded telehealth services, staff layoffs, or even bankruptcy,” said John Windhausen, Jr., Executive Director of the SHLB Coalition. “There is no way that applicants could have predicted the size of the funding cutbacks this year, which have no precedent in the 20 year history of the program. Last December, the FCC expressed concern about the harm to rural healthcare providers and waived the $400 million cap to allow rollover funding to be applied to FY2017 applicants. Unfortunately, the amount of rollover funding of $31 million did not come close to covering the $133 million funding shortfall. To avoid irreversible damage to rural healthcare, the FCC should grant this emergency petition and safeguard the health of our nation’s rural communities, which have been hurt time and time again by hospital closures, doctor shortages, and declining healthcare options.”
The FCC launched a proceeding to reform the RHC program in December of 2017. The number of eligible entities has more than doubled since the $400 million cap was set in 1996. In addition, the cap has not been adjusted for inflation or to reflect the dramatic changes in the healthcare and broadband marketplaces in the past twenty years.
“The FCC has the power to transform the RHC program from a program facing crisis to a program building the future of medicine for rural communities,” said Windhausen. “In order to address the rural health gap, we must step up our investments in rural telemedicine and the RHC program.”
The SHLB Coalition previously filed comments and reply comments in the FCC’s WC Docket No. 17-310 with the following four main recommendations to reform the Universal Service Fund program: 1) Increase the cap to $800 million to meet the current demand; 2) Encourage the formation of consortia in the Healthcare Connect Fund; 3) Establish funding tiers to ensure funds are distributed to the most rural areas; and 4) Improve administrative efficiency, transparency, and protection against waste, fraud, and abuse. Visit http://www.shlb.org/policy/Rural-Health-Care to learn more about SHLB’s advocacy to improve our nation’s telehealth.