In December 2020, the U.S. government passed a bill allocating an additional $250 million in funding to the Federal Communications Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth program.
What is the COVID-19 Telehealth Program?
The FCC launched the COVID-19 Telehealth program as a part of the overarching CARES Act in March 2020 to help nonprofit and public health care providers implement connected care services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. $200 million dollars in funding was distributed to eligible providers who had qualified for the program via the FCC’s application process. These funds could be used to purchase telecommunications systems, information services, and connected devices – including RPM devices – necessary to provide telehealth services to patients at home or in mobile locations.
Applications opened in April 2020, and the initial funding recipients were announced through July. After the initial funds ran out, the program was shut down and applications closed.
Some lawmakers criticized the government’s handling of the program, questioning the recipient selection process, and called for additional aid for providers who were not selected as the pandemic continued to affect their ability to provide in-person care.
New federal telehealth funding announced in December.
In late December 2020, an additional $250 million in funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth program was approved. The same bill also included stricter guidelines for how the program will be managed. Under the new guidelines, funding will be rewarded to at least one eligible institution in each state and the District of Columbia, as long as each state and the District has at least one eligible applicant.
While the FCC has not yet reopened applications or announced a date when they are expected to reopen, providers may wish to review eligibility guidelines and prepare to begin the application process once it becomes available.
The FCC is also accepting public comments on the application process for the COVID-19 Telehealth program and its previous evaluation metrics. Comments can be filed online through the FCC’s comment filing system or by mail as described in this public notice.
Does the COVID-19 Telehealth program cover the costs of remote patient monitoring devices?
COVID-19 Telehealth program funding can be used towards the implementation of a remote patient monitoring program. Remote patient monitoring greatly enhances the effectiveness of telehealth, offering a way for care providers to monitor patient vitals remotely and improve at-home care, significantly reducing readmissions.
The FCC website states that the program offers support in purchasing “telecommunications, information services, and connected devices necessary to provide telehealth services to patients in response to the coronavirus pandemic”. Any devices purchased must be a fundamental part of patient care, and they must be connected devices.
This means that home monitoring devices, such as pulse oximetry monitors and blood pressure monitors, that have Wifi or Bluetooth connectivity capabilities qualify. Internet and broadband connectivity systems, remote patient monitoring software, and other devices essential to implementing an RPM program, including tablets and smartphones, are also covered by the program, as are service fees for implementation and maintenance.
Program funds may not be used towards the development of new RPM software or hardware. It can only be used for the purchase of pre-existing devices and systems.
Is my organization eligible for the COVID-19 Telehealth program?
Before the application process can be started, healthcare providers must determine if they qualify for COVID-19 Telehealth program funding. The FCC’s website provides detailed instructions on program eligibility and application requirements, but please find a general summary below.
“The COVID-19 Telehealth Program is open to eligible health care provider sites that treat patients, whether located in rural or non-rural areas or U.S. territories. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program is limited to nonprofit and public eligible health care providers that fall within the categories of health care providers in section 254(h)(7)(B) of the 1996 Act:
- post-secondary educational institutions offering health care instruction, teaching hospitals, and medical schools;
- community health centers or health centers providing health care to migrants;
- local health departments or agencies;
- community mental health centers;
- not-for-profit hospitals;
- rural health clinics;
- skilled nursing facilities; or
- consortia of health care providers consisting of one or more entities falling into the first seven categories.
For purposes of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which is authorized by the CARES Act, and not the 1996 Telecommunications Act, both rural and non-rural health clinics are eligible to receive funding.”
In order to submit an application, providers must:
- Request an eligibility determination from USAC by filing an FCC Form 460
- Obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN)
- Start the process for registering for a System for Awards Management account
What is the Connected Care Pilot Program?
The Connected Care Pilot Program is a different initiative launched by the FCC that is also intended to help healthcare providers across the U.S. expand telehealth services. It is focused more on improving providers’ connectivity capabilities than covering the costs of devices.
Applications for the Connected Care Program are currently closed.