The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established a $200 million COVID-19 Telehealth Program, as authorized by the CARES Act, and separately created a $100 million, three-year Connected Care Pilot Program. The programs support broadband internet access service-enabled technologies used to deliver remote medical, diagnostic, patient-centered and treatment-related services directly to patients outside of traditional brick-and-mortar medical facilities. The FCC order identifies eligible health care providers and provides detailed information on the application processes for the two programs. Private, for-profit health care providers are not eligible.
The program will allocate $200 million to eligible health care providers, whether located in rural or non-rural areas, to purchase communications services and devices in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to broadband connections, the program will fund monitoring devices (e.g., pulse-ox, BP monitoring devices) as long as they are connected to the internet. The FCC will review applications and award funds on a rolling basis until they are expended or the current pandemic has ended. Applicants are strongly encouraged to target the funding to high-risk and vulnerable patients to the extent practicable. Funding, however, is not limited to treating COVID-19 patients as long as the funds are used “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” The FCC will announce application deadlines.
Eligible Health Care Providers. The program is limited to nonprofit- and public-eligible health care providers that fall within one of the following categories: (1) post-secondary educational institutions offering health care instruction, teaching hospitals and medical schools; (2) community health centers or health centers providing health care 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 health care providers consisting of one or more entities falling into the first seven categories. Interested health care providers that do not already have an eligibility determination can obtain one by filling out an FCC Form 460 with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).
Application Process. The order identifies the minimum information required in the applications, which must be submitted through the FCC’s online Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) under WC Docket No. 20-89, https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs, and must be addressed to the Commission’s Secretary, Office of the Secretary, Federal Communications Commission. (The information required in the application is provided at the end of this alert). The FCC will issue a notice stating when applicants can begin submitting applications.
Purchasing Services and Equipment. Selected health care providers need not engage in a competitive bidding process when procuring services or devices with program funds but are encouraged to purchase cost-effective eligible services and devices to the extent practicable during this time. The FCC also imposes record retention obligations.
The FCC’s connected care pilot program provides funding for selected pilot projects to cover 85% of the eligible costs of broadband connectivity, network equipment and information services necessary to provide connected care services. To participate in the program, a rural- or non-rural-eligible health care provider (the same categories of providers eligible for the COVID-19 program) must first submit an application to the FCC describing, among other things, its proposed pilot project and how the pilot project will use connected care services to serve the health care needs of participating patients. Selected programs will receive three years of committed funding. The FCC will prioritize telehealth programs that primarily benefit low-income persons or veterans.
The program will help health care providers defray the costs of services and equipment, including: (1) paying for broadband internet access services for their patients; (2) paying for the health care provider’s own broadband data connections as needed to enable broadband connections with their patients (but not with other health care providers); (3) purchasing other connected care information services; and (4) buying certain types of network equipment, such as routers and servers, but not end user or medical equipment.
The FCC order provides detailed guidance on how to apply for funding and the information required, including whether the provider serves rural or tribal areas. The FCC will announce the deadline for submitting applications and release an application form. Selected applicants must procure services through a competitive bidding process with enumerated exceptions.
Applications for funding for this program must include the following information:
Applicants will also 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. Health care providers that participate in the COVID-19 Telehealth Program must also comply with all applicable federal and state laws, including the False Claims Act, the Anti-Kickback Statute, and the Civil Monetary Penalties Law, as waived or modified in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, applicants will also be required to certify that they are not already receiving or expecting to receive other federal or state funding for the exact same services or devices for which they are requesting support under the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.