The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided $200 million to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to support healthcare providers in the fight against the ongoing pandemic. On March 30, the FCC chairman presented his plan for the $200 million, and on April 2, the project was approved.
The FCC established a COVID-19 Telehealth Program, distinct from the broader Connected Care Pilot Program – a three-year grant program for healthcare providers who propose projects for low-income or veteran patients. The pilot program will make available up to $100 million over three years for selected pilot projects.
The FCC also made several regulatory announcements on existing telehealth support:
For-profit hospitals will not be allowed to apply. The program is limited to nonprofit and public eligible healthcare providers: 1) post-secondary educational institutions offering healthcare instruction, teaching hospitals and medical schools, 2) community health centers or health centers providing healthcare to migrants, 3) local health departments or agencies, 4) community mental health centers, 5) not-for-profit hospitals, 6) rural health clinics, 7) skilled nursing facilities or 8) consortia of healthcare providers consisting of one or more entities falling into the first seven categories.
The FCC does not specify a limit on how much it will award, but it does not anticipate awarding more than $1 million to any single applicant. The FCC will award support to eligible applicants based on the estimated costs of the supported services and connected devices they intend to purchase. Applicants that have exhausted initially awarded funding may also request additional support. Applicants that are selected may also submit an application to receive funding from the Connected Care Pilot Program but may not request funding for the same exact services from both programs.
Funds may be used to purchase telecommunications services, information services and connected devices to provide connected care services in response to COVID-19, including by freeing up resources for healthcare professionals to treat COVID-19. Monitoring devices (e.g., pulse-ox and blood pressure monitoring devices) and devices that patients can use at home and then share the results with their healthcare provider will not be funded unless they are themselves connected. In addition, funds may not be used for administrative expenses related to participation in the program (e.g., costs for preparing an application) or other miscellaneous expenses (e.g., doctor and staff time spent on program outreach).
The FCC will begin accepting applications immediately after the publication of the Order and notice of approval by the Office of Management and Budget in the Federal Register.
Providers' program applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until they are exhausted or until the current pandemic ends. Organizations located in areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases will be given priority as well as underfunded institutions with mostly low-income and Medicare patients.
To be considered for participation in the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, interested eligible healthcare providers must submit applications that, at a minimum, contain the information detailed below.
Additionally, COVID-19 Telehealth Program applicants will be required, at the time of submission of their application, to certify, among other things, that they will comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other applicable privacy and reimbursement laws and regulations, and applicable medical licensing laws and regulations, as waived or modified in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as all applicable COVID-19 Telehealth Program requirements and procedures, including the requirement to retain records to demonstrate compliance with the COVID-19 Telehealth Program requirements and procedures for three years following the last date of service, subject to audit.
COVID-19 Telehealth Program applications must reference WC Docket No. 20-89 and must be filed electronically by accessing the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS). All filings must be addressed to the Commission's Secretary, Office of the Secretary, Federal Communications Commission. Applicants must also send a courtesy copy of their application via email.
Upon selection, the FCC will provide additional guidance on the implementation of the program, including the process for participants to submit monthly invoices and receive reimbursements for their services and devices. Program participants will be required to maintain records related to their participation for at least three years from the last date of service under the program and present that information upon request.
1 USAC assigns a health care provider number for each health care providers site it determines to be eligible for support based on the FCC Form 460 submission and related documentation.
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