UPDATED AS OF FEBRUARY 2021
Around this time of year, we start to receive questions about federal funding for schools, libraries and rural health care organizations. The Rural Health Care Program is designed to help rural health care organizations offset the costs of telecommunications and technology services through the Universal Service Fund (USF). Like with any government program, it is full of rules, regulations, processes and procedures – all of which can lead to confusion and frustration for you and your customers if you’re not up to speed. Your eligible customers probably know a lot about this program already, but arming yourself with the basics will go a long way in positioning you as a knowledgeable resource they can count on.
To get you started, we’ve rounded up a list of frequently asked questions to highlight some of the essential elements of the Rural Health Care Program. There is a similar program called E-rate for schools and libraries. Check out our FAQs dedicated to that program to learn more.
Before we get into the FAQs, let’s look at how reimbursement works. Unlike the E-rate program for schools and libraries where customers can choose SPI vs. BEAR reimbursement, the Rural Health Care Program only supports one type of reimbursement. How does it work?
- The service provider’s invoice will reflect the full amount of the service. The customer is responsible to pay the full amount and file a form to receive reimbursement from USAC, the company tasked with administering the program.
Additionally, organizations can choose to apply for the Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF) for a flat discount on broadband expenses and network equipment or the Telecommunications Program for a discount based on the urban-rural price difference in their area on voice services for the use of telemedicine and telehealth. The Telecommunications Program is in the process of being phased out so let’s dig a little deeper into the HCF Program.
COMMON RURAL HEALTHCARE QUESTIONS
- When is the filing window for the Rural Health Care Program?
The filing window for 2021 is open from the beginning of January through the beginning of April. During this time, rural healthcare organizations can submit a formal request for services (Forms 462 and 466) and start fielding bids.
- Who is responsible for completing the application paperwork for the Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF)?
Customers are responsible for completing all paperwork; service providers are prohibited from completing any funding paperwork. Your Nitel contact can help quote services following our regular pricing process.
- What is a Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) and why is that important?
A Supplier Identification Number is a nine-digit number assigned to service providers by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) when the relevant FCC paperwork is filed. The SPIN number should be used when filing for an E-rate deal to indicate the supplier chosen as a network provider. Nitel’s SPIN is 143028851 and should be filed under Network Innovations, Inc. dba Nitel, Inc.
- Can my customer choose any service provider?
Customers can choose a service provider based on the factors that are most important to them, but cost-effectiveness must be weighed more heavily than any of the other factors. Once the request for services has been posted to the My Portal for Healthcare Providers for 28 days the customer can move forward with their selection. If the customer wishes to choose a service provider that is not the most cost-effective, they must submit an explanation detailing the reasons for their decision.
- What if my customer is unhappy with the provider they select?
Although the funding year is January through April, customers are locked into using the service provider selected. The ability to process a SPIN change to another provider is limited to provider company being acquired by another company.
- When will my customer find out if they are approved?
Applicants usually find out mid-year whether or not they have been approved. If services have already been installed and the customer has already been paying the full amount, the customer will receive a credit or receive the overpayment amount in a lump sum.
- What is the California Teleconnect Fund (CTF) and what does it cover?
For customers in California, CTF is available to cover 50% of the remaining cost of services. It applies to:
- K-12 schools
- Community colleges
- Government-owned health care providers
- Community based-organizations
Nitel tip: Be sure to specify if your customer is looking to secure CTF. Our quoting specialists will make sure to gather the necessary information to complete your request.
Hopefully the above questions help you guide your customers through the Rural Health Care Program process. On your next applicable opportunity, be sure to engage your Nitel channel manager, or head over to n-Tellipro to get a quote. If you have a question we haven’t covered, please reach out to your Nitel channel manager or email our funding specialists at firstname.lastname@example.org.