U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today introduced S. 1916, the Rural Health Care Connectivity Act of 2015, a bill that would amend the Communications Act to permit skilled nursing facilities (SNF) to apply for support from the Universal Service Fund’s (USF) Rural Health Care Program (RHCP). The USF’s RHCP provides funding for telecommunications and broadband services used to provide health care in rural communities. The Communications Act specifies which types of health care providers are eligible to receive RHCP support, of which SNFs are currently not included. Thune serves as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the USF.
“For many South Dakotans, it is not as easy as jumping in the car and driving down to the local hospital for a checkup, which is why access to rural health care, including telemedicine, is such an important issue for South Dakota families,” said Thune. “This common-sense bill would support and improve the health care services that skilled nursing facilities can provide to our rural communities by allowing them access to much-needed funds that are currently out of reach. My legislation achieves this goal without raising the existing cap on the Universal Service Fund.”
When the FCC updated the RHCP and created the Healthcare Connect Fund in 2012, it proposed to implement a pilot program to examine funding SNFs. In January 2014, the FCC deferred implementation of the pilot program, and in June 2014, Thune sent a letter to the FCC urging it to resume implementation of the pilot program.
The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society (Good Sam), headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D., currently operates hundreds of SNFs nationwide, most of which are in rural communities. Through Internet-based connections to its national headquarters, Good Sam allows rural patients to remotely connect with hospitals and physicians. The Rural Health Care Connectivity Act of 2015 would help organizations like Good Sam provide better quality care for rural areas throughout the country.