Rural SNF technology bill not 'urgent' enough to pass?

A bill aiming at making rural skilled nursing facilities eligible for broadband funding may not be “urgent” enough to see passage into law this year, experts recently revealed.

The Rural Health Care Connectivity Act of 2015 was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, and can progress to a full House vote. The Senate version of the legislation also received a green light from the Senate Commerce Committee in November, but it has since stalled.

The act has received praise from provider groups, which said it's “critical” to increasing telemedicine access and improving the exchange of electronic health records. Despite the support from providers and lawmakers, the bill might not see full votes in the House or Senate, according to one expert.

“It's just one of those bills that people agree on but isn't considered super-urgent,” Diane Calmus, government affairs and policy manager with the National Rural Health Association, told Bloomberg BNA. The bill would impact around 1,650 public and nonprofit nursing homes, she added.

Dan Holdhusen, director of government relations at the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, disagreed with the characterization, telling Bloomberg BNA that a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office showing the bill could save the government up to $18 million should be a positive sign that the legislation will go up for votes in the near future.

Holdhusen testified on behalf of Good Samaritan, as well as the American Health Care Association, at a hearing for the bill in April.

“We have seen SNFs overlooked in terms of resources available for access to affordable broadband services in a number of federal policies,” Holdhusen told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology during the hearing. “But this bill gives us hope that SNFs will no longer be treated as second-class providers of senior care.”