Fun With The Interweb…

A new bill would help skilled nursing centers get connected to the Interweb revolution. (Photo courtesy the good people of WikiMedia Commons.)

A new bill would help skilled nursing centers get connected to the Interweb. (Photo courtesy the good people of WikiMedia Commons.)

Bill Myers

Happy Thanksgiving, ProviderNation. “Life,” as the late, great Kingsley Amis has it,

          … is mainly toil and labor

          Two things see you through:

          Chortling when it hits your neighbor,

          Whinging when it’s you.

So mad props to the fine folks at Quill.com, who’ve decided to have a little chortle at the new ICD-10 codes. Whatever our differences as a nation, I think we can all agree that this is the kind of thing that the Interweb was invented for.

The Broadband Bill You Should Know About

Speaking of the Interweb, there has been a fascinating—and underreported—development from your Nation’s Capital. Last week, a bill entitled the “Rural Healthcare Connectivity Act of 2015” cleared the Senate Commerce committee without amendment.

In Washingtonese, the bill amends the 1934 Communications Act to allow skilled nursing centers to request, under the Universal Service Fund, “necessary telecommunications and information services to serve persons who reside in rural areas at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates charged for similar services in urban areas.”

In plain language, the bill offers tens of millions of dollars in subsidies so that care centers can get hooked up to high-speed broadband.

 Skilled Nursing Left Out

Here’s the background: If you look at your phone bill, you’ll see that the FCC docks you for what it calls the Universal Service Fund. In days of yore, the fund was used as a way to help pay for phone service in poor and rural neighborhoods that couldn’t otherwise make a business case for Ma Bell. But about five years ago, the FCC did a soup-to-nuts overhaul of the fund and it became a broadband-for-America fund.

As part of that overhaul, the FCC set aside a special Healthcare Connect Fund, with the idea of connecting health providers to high-speed Internet. The commission even promised a $50 million pilot program specifically for nonprofit skilled nursing centers. But in fiscal 2014, when the skilled nursing pilot was supposed to take off, the commission redirected the cash, saying it didn’t have the legal authority for the program, after all.

Enter Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the champion of rural connectivity, who is shepherding the current bill through Washington.

Anchors Away?

The heavy lifting here has been done by the fine folks at Good Samaritan, who’ve generally been ahead of the tech curve. If their efforts are successful, though, all providers will owe them a big thanks.

And not just by way of helping residents stay atop of Game of Thrones, either. There are two further Universal Service implications for providers.

The first is that elders face what we might call an App Gap.  If new technology is going to serve elders, many are arguing, it must needs be designed by elders, not just for them. Low-cost, high-speed broadband is one of the best labs for that kind of innovation: Think of what some tech-savvy CNA, for instance, might be able to do in her down time, as she wonders how she can help one of her residents enjoy Angry Birds (say) the same way the kids do.

The second is that, in many rural areas, the only high-speed broadband available is through what tech types call “anchor institutions”—schools, libraries, hospitals, &c. Think of the good will that rural providers could engender by being the place where kids go to finish their homework online, or moms and dads look for jobs.

Bill Myers is Provider’s senior editor. Email him at wmyers@providermagazine.com. Follow him on Twitter, @ProviderMyers.

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