The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is carrying forward $198 million in unused funds from prior years to improve broadband service in rural areas so patients can get better virtual access to doctors.
In addition, the FCC has been given $200 million in funding under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, of which it has allocated $105 million so far.
In response to the pandemic, the Trump administration has lowered regulatory hurdles for telehealth so doctors and nurses can get paid for consulting with patients across state lines. Broadband service is weak in some rural areas, and the CARES funding is intended to help improve signals and update telecommunication infrastructure in order to expand access to telehealth.
The FCC has devoted more funding to the Rural Health Care Program by increasing annual spending caps and allowing unused funds to be carried over into future spending. As a result, the program now has $802.7 million, the largest amount in its history. Before the change, funding was capped at $604.76 for 2020.
“In 2018, the FCC took swift action to ensure that the Rural Health Care Program better reflected the needs of and advances in connected care,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. The carry-over funding and the CARES funding ensures “that rural health care providers can continue to serve their communities during this difficult time and well into the future,” Pai said.