June 8, 2020 — The Federal Communication Commission’s recent initiatives to increase funding for telehealth services, or broadband-enabled healthcare, are not accessible to for-profit hospitals, according to panelists speaking on a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar on May 21.
The three major agency initiatives for which private hospitals are ineligible include the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, the Connected Care Pilot Program and the Rural Health Care Program.
Samantha Burch, director of health information technology policy for the American Hospital Association, argued that the decision to make for-profit hospitals ineligible for federal funding was a significant mistake, as 20 percent of hospitals nationwide are for-profit, some of which are located in rural areas.
“We believe that all direct care facilities are in need of this support. COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate based on the tax bracket surrounding hospitals,” Burch said.
According to Chad Eberle, senior counsel in the Telecommunications Access Policy Division, federal funding allocated through the COVID-19 and connected care programs is targeted towards areas that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. In other words, more populous areas, which have been highly impacted by coronavirus compared to their rural counterparts, will receive most of the recent federal assets.
Once again, rural hospitals, whether for-profit or non-profit, have been disregarded, Eberle said. These hospitals will continue to lack essential utilities and resources due to a lack of necessary federal funding.
According to Burch, the American Hospital Association supports the steps taken by the FCC, but recognizes that more needs to be done.
Burch also expressed concern that this temporary funding will disappear after the COVID-19 crisis, based on the slow progress of telehealth funding prior to the pandemic.
To ensure the momentum keeps going, data will be necessary to prove the need for expanding the broadband infrastructure that telehealth practices demand. Limited data currently available reveals that telehealth practices lead to reduced costs and improved patient satisfaction.
Data collected on the Banner Health Ambulatory Care Program reveals telehealth practices have led to a 34.5 percent reduction in cost, a 49.5 percent reduction in hospitalization, a 50 percent reduction in length of stay and a 75 percent reduction in 30-day readmission rate.
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