The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology today held a hearing examining challenges and solutions related to the issue of rural broadband.
 
In a statement submitted for the hearing, AHA told the subcommittee it appreciates its “focus on the importance of expanding broadband connectivity and removing barriers to improved access to health care through technology and telehealth.”
 
Specifically, AHA expressed support for the Federal Communications Commission’s recent vote to increase the Rural Health Care Program’s annual cap to $571 million after the cap remained static at $400 million for more than 20 years. AHA also shared recommendations for modifications to streamline and greater incentivize program participation.
 
In addition, AHA said it “is increasingly vital for health care providers to have reliable and robust broadband connections to manage daily operations and critical telehealth applications. Telehealth connects patients to vital health care services though videoconferencing, remote monitoring, electronic consults and wireless communications.”
 
At the hearing, Jenni Word, associate administrator and chief nursing officer of Wallowa Memorial Hospital, a critical access hospital in Oregon, said “the potential for telehealth to expand access to high quality health care services seems limitless,” however, “there are a number of barriers preventing us from realizing that potential.”
 
Among other recommendations, she urged Congress to eliminate geographic and setting location requirements; expand the types of technology that can be used and coverage for all services that are safe to provide; and provide assistance with the capital costs associated with developing telehealth programs.
 
“Federal grant and loan programs are needed to help small rural providers make the investments needed to implement telehealth programs,” Word said.