BEND, OR -- The Federal Communications Commission is expected to soon vote on a proposal to raise the annual spending cap for a program that helps provide broadband infrastructure, to connect rural patients with doctors in urban areas. The chairman of the FCC has agreed to support a request to increase the cap for the Rural Health Care Program. His order comes after a group of lawmakers, including Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, insisted the current cap was preventing expansion of critical telemedicine programs.
Dr. Miles Ellenby, from Portland’s OHSU, recently spoke to a group of healthcare professionals and Senator Wyden in Bend
, via a telemedicine unit. He explained how OHSU’s partnership with St. Charles has helped 36 critically ill kids in the past five years, "One, it allows them to stay in Bend when it’s appropriate and safe, and on the other hand it’s supporting some very critical scenarios." For many patients, telemedicine connects them with specialists hours away, "Insurance won’t cover the transportation cost; they just cover the doctor’s visit. So, oftentimes that care is received at great personal cost or, unfortunately, they’re not getting the routine care they’re supposed to. But now, with these resources around the state, we’re able to provide that care on a good basis." Dr. Ellenby told the group in Bend, "Globally, our program has now seen more than 2,000 patients since 2010; that’s of course from 14 hospitals around the state. A large majority of those patients are presenting with stroke, but also our Neonatologists are supporting newborn resuscitation, sometimes with very dramatic affect."
Senator Wyden calls the program “vitally important” to rural patients. Local providers say they haven't been able to expand critical broadband infrastructure because of the $400 million annual cap. FCC Chair Ajit Pai says the cap was set in 1997 and never accounted for inflation. His proposal would raise the annual limit to $571 million