WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, applauded the Senate’s passage of his Rural Health Care Connectivity Act of 2015, which was included in the Toxic Substances Control Act conference report. Thune’s bipartisan bill, which was introduced early last year, would amend the Communications Act to permit public and nonprofit 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, and SNFs are currently not included.
The Commerce Committee passed the Rural Health Care Connectivity Act in November 2015, and last night the full Senate approved the conference report by voice vote. The conference report now heads to the president, who is expected to sign it.
“Closing the gap between the health care our rural communities are receiving and the care they deserve has been a priority of mine, and having this bill signed into law would mean that gap gets even smaller,” said Thune. “We should be doing all we can to make it easier for health care professionals to connect with rural patients and provide greater support and improved services to those who need them the most. This bill would put these professionals, like those who work for skilled nursing facilities around the country, in a much better position to do so.”
When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) updated the RHCP and created the Healthcare Connect Fund in 2012, it proposed implementing a pilot program to examine funding SNFs. In January 2014, the FCC deferred implementation of the pilot program, claiming it needed additional statutory authority to allow SNFs to be eligible.
The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society (Good Sam), headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 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 would help organizations like Good Sam provide better-quality care for rural areas throughout the country.
“We commend Senator Thune and the support of other congressional leaders for the long-awaited passage of the Rural Health Care Connectivity Act of 2015,” said David J. Horazdovsky, president and CEO of Good Sam. “Enactment of this bill will offer much-needed assistance to residents of Good Samaritan and other skilled nursing care centers in a variety of locations in South Dakota and in other rural areas of the country.”