ATA calls FCC's sluggish rural healthcare efforts 'disturbing'

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is falling down on the job when it comes to telehealth, the American Telemedicine Association believes.

That's the simple, but brutal, message ATA director Jonathan Linkous conveyed in a pointed letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski last week. Linkous accused the commission of not carrying through on multiple projects that could improve telehealth delivery. In particular, he slammed the agency for spending less than 20 percent of the telecommunication funds it had slated for healthcare use, doling out only $80 million of a $400 million per year commitment it made last year.

"The Commission annually leaves over $300 million in funds that could be used immediately to help improve Americans' access to health services and help reduce the cost of healthcare," Linkous wrote. "With the crisis America faces in healthcare, the Commission's failure to take action is disturbing."

One possible reason telehealth policies have stalled is that "every key professional" with healthcare expertise has left the Commission, Linkous added. Ultimately, he said it leaves telehealth-related policies and projects in limbo, with "practically no resources [and] no apparent plans" to move them forward.

The agency also has dropped the ball on the National Broadband Plan, and the Universal Support Mechanism for Rural Healthcare, both of which could improve telehealth access in rural areas, according to Linkous. And Commission officials have yet to respond to complaints the General Accounting Office lodged about the FCC's handling of its Rural Health Care Program--of which telehealth is a significant component--last November, he added.

To learn more:
- read the CEPro article
- check out BNA's coverage
- read the ATA's letter to Genachowski (.pdf)