Alaska health care providers discussed rural telehealth systems this week with the Federal Communications Commission, which provides subsidies that help keep the systems in operation.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr met with the providers in Anchorage and told them the commission is raising the subsidy cap and working to process the payments more effectively, Alaska Public Media reported.
Telehealth services are vital for rural health care providers in Alaska, like Dr. Rachel Lescher, a pediatric endocrinologist. Lescher is able to diagnose patients who may be hundreds of miles away in communities not connected to the road system and unable to regularly see a doctor in person.
"Trying to make people fly in with their parent escort for a half-hour, 45-minute visit every three months, when it takes a day to travel here and they spend a night at a hotel, then they spend the next night in a hotel, then they travel home and they're missing three days of work and school, is not very practical," Lescher said.
The providers rely on subsidies from the FCC to help pay their sometimes hefty internet bills for the telehealth services. Providers had to shut down some services this year after the committed subsidies were less than 1 percent of what providers were anticipating.
The commission voted earlier this year to raise the cap from $400 million to $571 million, Carr said.
"For years, the program was under-subscribed, meaning we weren't hitting the cap on the support that we would provide through the Universal Service program," Carr said. "Last year, and the year before that, for the first time, we started hitting and going over that cap, and so the FCC voted a couple months ago to raise the cap so we can provide the necessary funding to support these deployments."