March 15, 2005

Crapo: Rural Health Care In Line ForDiscount Internet Benefits

Cites FCC decision lowering costs for telehealth

Boise - Rural health care providers in Idaho who use telehealth services may soon see discounted Internet access. Idaho Senator Mike Crapo today cited a decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would allow discounted telecommunications services to rural hospitals and other health care providers. That decision would allow a 25% discount on Internet services to providers in rural areas to ensure that they are comparable to costs paid by urban hospitals. Crapo, who has championed telehealth options since being elected to Congress, says the decision will greatly improve the health care options for many patients in rural areas of the country. Telehealth relies on Internet access to convey medical information from remote locations to doctors and medical specialists in other locations.â??Telehealth is a promising health care option, and this decision will allow more rural areas to provide it to patients,â?? said Crapo, a member of Senate Rural Health Caucus and the Telehealth and Health Care Infomatics Task Force. â??We can keep health care costs down in rural areas by making sure the federal government offers fair reimbursement rates for Medicare and other programs. That bill, which I sponsored, was approved back in 2001. With this FCC decision, we have further recognition of the benefits of telehealth programs being extended to rural areas and will offer those participating in such programs discounted services. Ultimately this will keep health care costs down and improve the quality of medical care for patients in rural areas.â?? Crapo said Idahoâ??s rural population base means many hospitals will benefit from both the rural reimbursement rules and new telehealth standards. The FCC, in offering the 25% discount on Internet services to rural areas, wants to increase participation in such rural telehealth programs. The FCC also announced it would expand the maximum distance such rural programs can use when applying for telehealth-based discounts from the nearest city of 50,000 to the nearest city in the state where the rural program is based. The goal of these new standards, according to the FCC, is to â??strengthen telemedicine and telehealth networks across the nation, help improve the quality of health care services available in rural America, and better enable rural communities to rapidly diagnose, treat, and contain possible outbreaks of disease. Moreover, enhancing access to an integrated nation-wide telecommunications network for rural health care providers will further the Commissionâ??s core responsibility to make available a rapid nation-wide network for the purpose of the national defense, particularly with the increased awareness of the possibility of biological or chemical terrorist attacks.â?? # # #