CHIME wants the FCC to double rural broadband funding to advance telehealth, prevent opioid overdoses

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
In a letter to the FCC's Ajit Pai, CHIME leaders said more funding would help rural providers address the opioid crisis with telehealth solutions. (Image: FCC)

The College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME) wants twice as much funding for a federal program to expand broadband access for rural providers and identify ways to curb opioid abuse through telehealth.

After approving a short-term funding boost for the Rural Health Care Program (RHCP) in fiscal year 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called for industry comments regarding proposed changes to the program, including how to raise the current annual cap of $400 million. RHCP provides funding for rural providers to improve access to high-speed internet which support health IT initiatives involving telemedicine and remote monitoring.

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The program has been inundated with requests in recent years, prompting calls to raise the $400 million limit. In its call for comments, the FCC suggested raising the cap to $571 million to account for inflation over the last 20 years. 

CHIME executives advocated raising the annual cap to $800 million in order to meet demands of rural providers. The health IT association suggested the FCC work with other government health agencies, including the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to identify ways to leverage telemedicine to “help curb the opioid crisis.”

RELATED: CHIME kicks off opioid task force led by CIOs at Stanford Children’s, University of Utah Health

“CHIME believes increasing the funds is warranted and should occur retroactively,” CHIME CEO Russell Branzell and Board Chair Cletis Earle wrote in the letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. They pointed to a report (PDF) released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in October that found the cost of technology and limited broadband access often limits care for rural patients that could benefit from telehealth solutions.

The letter was issued days after CHIME kicked off an opioid task force led by Ed Kopetsky, CIO of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, whose son died of an overdose last year.