The Alaska House Wants Expanded Access to TeleHealth in Rural Communities
House Calls for More Federal Resources to Expand Broadband Capacity to Support Rural Healthcare
JUNEAU – Today, the Alaska Legislature passed a resolution calling for additional federal resources to help expand access to telehealth care in rural Alaska. House Joint Resolution 14 is sponsored by Rep. Bryce Edgmon (Dillingham), who represents many remote communities in Southwest Alaska. The resolution asks the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to increase the Rural Health Care Universal Service Support Budget sufficiently to adjust for inflation and keep up with advances in broadband technology.
The support program’s budget has been capped at $400 million since it was established in 1997. Now, after 20 years of dramatic advances in broadband-dependent telehealth technologies and increased utilization of these services, FCC expects demand to exceed the budget cap for the first time.
“The long-distance delivery of quality healthcare via telemedicine has made great strides in rural Alaska in recent years,” said Rep. Edgmon. “However, we’re about to hit a roadblock. Increasing the FCC support budget will allow healthcare providers in isolated communities to continue expanding local treatment options in ways we never could have dreamed of just a few years ago.”
“Telehealth allows patients in rural parts of Alaska access to state-of-the-art diagnostic tools and treatments that can help the sick and afflicted,” said Rep. Zach Fansler (D-Bethel). “This resolution puts the House on record supporting a proactive solution to a looming problem potentially jeopardizing health care for hundreds of thousands.”
While the budget for the Rural Health Care Universal Services Support Program has remained unchanged for so long, the budget for the FCC’s E-Rate Program for schools was increased by over $1.6 billion in 2015.
“Telehealth is coming into its own in many parts of rural Alaska, especially in helping those dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues,” said Rep. Dean Westlake (D-Kiana). “Telehealth can also save money by cutting down on the need for emergency medivac’s and travel from remote villages to hospitals in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau.”
HJR 14 was approved today by a vote of 33-6. The resolution will now be sent to the Alaska Senate for consideration.