Providers applaud passage of rural healthcare technology bill

After months of intense lobbying, long-term care providers are celebrating the Senate's passage of the Rural Health Care Connectivity Act of 2015. The measure opens up Federal Commerce Commission funds that can help rural operators gain better broadband and telecom technology.

“Passage of this bill marks the end of an arduous effort on behalf of skilled nursing facilities to gain access to [Rural Health Care Program] funds,” said Dan Holdhusen, director of government relations at the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, the nation's largest non-profit operator of nursing homes, most of which are in rural areas.                                                                

Holdhusen led providers' charge on the measure, testifying in April at a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing.

The bill, S.1916/H.R. 4111, was included in the Toxic Substances Control Act conference report, which passed the full Senate on Tuesday night by voice vote. President Obama is expected to sign the conference report into law.

When the FCC updated the Rural Health Care Program and created the Healthcare Connect Fund in 2012, it proposed implementing a pilot program to examine adding skilled nursing facilities to those that could be funded, noted a statement from Rep. John Thune (R-SD), who introduced the bill last year.

However, in January 2014, the FCC put off implementation of the pilot program, claiming it needed additional statutory authority to allow SNFs to be eligible.