The FCC is creating the Healthcare Connect Fund to reform and modernize its universal service program by expanding access to robust broadband healthcare networks. The new Fund will provide up to $400 million each year to support broadband nationally and particularly target providers in rural areas.
In 2006, the FCC launched its Rural Health Care Pilot program to learn how to more effectively support the networks and now funds some 50 active pilots. In the “Wireline Competition Bureau: Evaluation of Rural Health Care Pilot Program” report released August 2012, lessons were learned from these pilots. The report is available at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-12-1332A1.pdf.
Highlights in the report show that a South Carolina consortium saved $18 million in Medicaid costs by using telepsychiatry and a group of healthcare providers in the Midwest saved $1.2 million in patient electronic intensive care unit services. Lessons learned from the August report and from success stories will help the new Healthcare Connect Fund to expand access to high-bandwidth connections.
The new Healthcare Connect Fund will:
- Remove artificial limitations on technology and provider type that hampered legacy universal service healthcare support
- Encourage consortia between smaller rural healthcare providers and urban medical centers so that remote hospitals and clinics can draw on the medical, technical, and administrative resources of larger providers
- Increase fiscal responsibility by requiring participants to contribute 35 percent of the costs, while affording healthcare providers access to lower rates through group buying
- Support broadband services purchased from diverse communications providers, while also allowing healthcare providers to construct new broadband networks when it is cost effective
- Cover upgrades to higher speed service that is required for healthcare applications
In addition, the plan will establish a new competitive Pilot Program to test expanding broadband healthcare networks to skilled nursing facilities. Up to $50 million over three years will be available from the Fund for these competitively awarded Pilots
Savings achieved by group purchases through consortia and other increases in efficiency could cut the cost of robust broadband healthcare networks in half for both providers and the Universal Service Fund, based on the FCC’s analysis of successful Rural Health Care Pilots.
For more information, go to www.fcc.gov.