FCC Adopts Order to Overhaul Rural Health Care Program

 
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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted to adopt significant reforms and updates to its Rural Health Care (RHC) Program, which provides funding to eligible healthcare providers for telecommunications and Internet access services.

In response to growing public concern over operational and policy problems that could curb program participation, the Report and Order outlines steps to ensure “limited program funds are disbursed efficiently and equitably, promote transparency and predictability in the program’s administration, and strengthen safeguards against waste, fraud, and abuse.”  

This adopted overhaul will impact many areas of the program and is applicable to healthcare organizations who are already participating or are interested in future participation. By Funding Year 2021, the rulemaking directs USAC to:

  • Prioritize funding support based on rurality and medically underserved areas if demand exceeds the budget in order to ensure eligible healthcare providers continue to receive RHC funding;

  • Streamline and simplify the calculation process for the discounted rates healthcare providers pay for services and the amount of support received from the RHC program;

  • Improve the competitive bidding process by making it easier for participating providers to identify and select cost-effective service offerings;

  • Create a database of rates healthcare providers would use to determine the amount of support they can receive from the RHC Program;

  • Simplify the application process with a series of program-wide rules and procedures to increase clarity on program processes;

  • Establish measures to help ease the burden on applicants including providing additional time for the competitive bidding process, a more efficient application filing window, and mechanisms for USAC to address deadline extension requests for invoicing and service delivery.

Although the application of these reforms is on a prospective basis and the rate database won’t go into effect until FY2021, we recommend all healthcare providers who participate in the program to follow these updates closely by signing up for the USAC RHC newsletter.

For more information on the reforms, visit the following resources:

 

*Published August 21, 2019. This blog does not incorporate potential regulatory themes from a recent FCC Order.