Approaching Shortage in Rural Healthcare Funding Can Be Mitigated by Raising Cap, Program Reform
TeleQuality CEO Tim Koxlien Identifies Short-Term, Long-Term Solutions to Reform Rural Health Care Program at Washington Broadband Event
Crystal City, VA (June 2, 2017) – “Funding could be better utilized, without increasing contributions to the Universal Service Fund, if funds were shifted from underutilized programs or combined with each other.” That’s the message Tim Koxlien, CEO of San Antonio-based TeleQuality Communications, Inc. and its Rural Health Telecom℠ division, delivered to healthcare providers, academics, health professionals, federal regulators and legislators yesterday at the 7th Annual Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) Conference in Crystal City, VA.
“This was a historic year for the RHC program which hit, for the first time ever, it’s $400 million funding cap,” Koxlien said. “While prior years have shown a lack of participation in the program for various reasons, unprecedented demand for the telecommunications network support of electronic health records (EHR) software, plus the addition of eligible entities and services, has produced a surge of funding requests that the current funding cap simply cannot support.”
Koxlien discussed how the rise in high-bandwidth broadband networks throughout the healthcare industry was in part a direct result of federal EHR mandates that forced the industry to go digital or forfeit Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement monies critical to the survival of rural healthcare. “Rural healthcare providers cannot go back, the industry must continue to progress toward 21st century care with the latest advanced technological tools,” he added.
“In the short term, to immediately mitigate issues for rural healthcare providers that cannot afford these necessary networks, the funding cap should be increased to account for inflation,” Koxlien said. “Unlike E-rate, the RHC program has not remained on-par with inflation, been updated as a result of EHR requirements, nor was it increased when urban locations and skilled nursing facilities were added as eligible providers.”
If the fund had kept up with inflation since inception, the cap for the 2016 funding year would have been 50% higher at $600 million, he stated. In addition, a recent CBO report found that adding skilled nursing facilities to the program as eligible entities would require an average of $18,000 per year per facility that requests funding. “If only 75 percent of eligible rural skilled nursing facilities applied for funding at $18,000 a year, that would require at least $22.275 million in additional funding for the program every year,” Koxlien noted.
Koxlien also proposed longer-term solutions for RHC program reform, including options such as taking cues from E-rate, reducing compliance burdens, and simplifying program rules. “We think the RHC program could be well served by certain aspects of E-rate, such as matching state funds for infrastructure projects,” he said.
Last year, members of Congress questioned USAC over potential wasteful spending as they sought information about RHC funding dollars going toward consultant fees. “The RHC program should be streamlined and program requirements simplified in order to negate the possibility of wasted funds,” Koxlien said. “We need to be confident that tax-payer dollars are going toward enabling life-saving telemedicine networks, not administrative paperwork!”
About TeleQuality Communications, Inc. (TQCI)
TeleQuality Communications Inc. (TQCI) is a leading provider of quality telecommunications and network connectivity products and services to rural healthcare facilities. Since 1999, TQCI and its division, Rural Health Telecom℠, have been designing and supplying organizations with cost-effective, custom network solutions to connect multiple business locations to each other, business partners and the internet. TeleQuality’s technology solutions enable healthcare providers to take advantage of emerging healthcare technologies that increase access and lower the cost of healthcare. For more information, please visit www.telequality.com.