The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is adding $198 million in funding to the Rural Health Care Program to help healthcare providers acquire telecommunications and broadband services. The funding is in addition to $200 million that was allocated to the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). About half of the CARES Act telehealth funding has been spoken for thus far.
Telehealth visits have surged virtually everywhere during the COVID-19 pandemic as patients try to avoid going in person to healthcare facilities and providers’ offices. Providers in rural areas where broadband infrastructure is scarce or expensive have the most to gain from coverage improvements, as video conferencing for telehealth generally requires a broadband connection. The $198 million in funding will come from reallocating funds that were unused in prior years, making a total of over $800 million available to healthcare providers in 2020 under the program.