Rural Telemedicine Programs Receive Close to $9m in Federal Grants to Support Doctors and Patients
December 3, 2014 09:58 AM
About 31 telemedicine programs will receive $8.6 million in federal grant money for rural healthcare initiatives as part of a wider move by the government in support of telemedicine to help patients in rural communities gain better access to primary care physicians and medical specialists. The grants to rural telemedicine programs are part of a wider package of funds totaling more Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) initiatives. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the grants in late November.
Specifically, USDA Rural Development awarded 65 grants across 34 states to improve health care and educational services in rural communities. Of these 65 grants, 31 grants totaling $8.6 million were healthcare related.
“Health care delivered via telehealth is fast becoming a feasible option to serve patients not only in rural health settings but also in underserved urban areas,” said NAHC’s affiliate Home Care Technology Association of America (HCTAA) Executive Director Richard Brennan. “These federal efforts, however, have been limited by laws that control the location, the health care professional, the medical services, and also the technologies themselves that can be reimbursed for payment.”
The recently announced grants are the latest in a series of USDA Rural Development investments in rural health and health IT infrastructure needs - including telehealth, health information exchange and electronic health record technology needs - following a Memorandum of Understanding that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and USDA signed in 2011 to help link rural doctors and clinics to USDA Rural Development grants and loans.
Beginning with Iowa in June 2013, HHS and USDA jointly launched a pilot initiative that generated more than $38 million in financing to Critical Access Hospitals and small, rural hospitals across four states by September 2013. As of October 2014, the program had expanded this initiative to reach doctors, clinics, and hospitals caring for rural and poor communities across 13 states: Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming and Kentucky.
While the expansion of the program is a positive development for the use of telemedicine in rural areas, HCTAA is urging that current restrictions on grants only to rural hospitals and clinics be lifted. “Congress will need to address the public groundswell for expanding the use of telehealth services by both Medicaid and Medicare recipients in the near future,” said Mr. Brennan. “NAHC continues to work both with the Obama Administration and members of Congress to address the necessity for reimbursement of telehealth services to home health agencies and will continue its efforts with the newly elected 114th Congress.”