U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today applauded the Commerce Committee’s passage of the Rural Health Care Connectivity Act of 2015 (S. 1916). The bipartisan bill, which was introduced earlier this year by Thune, 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, and SNFs are currently not included. Today’s committee passage will allow the bill to be reported to the full Senate for future consideration.
“I’m glad the Commerce Committee approved this important legislation, which will help support and improve the services that skilled nursing facilities, like the ones operated throughout the country by Sioux Falls-based Good Samaritan Society, provide to rural America,” said Thune. “We must continue to work toward bringing health care to rural communities that don’t have the access and availability afforded to more urban areas, which is why I’m hopeful the full Senate will be able to consider this legislation without delay.”
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 of 2015 would help organizations like Good Sam provide better quality care for rural areas throughout the country.