On November 5, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) released a public notice of the new “Connected Care Pilot Program” (hereinafter, “pilot program”). This pilot program has been allotted $100 million by the Universal Service Fund to promote telehealth services, particularly to low-income Americans and veterans. The period for healthcare providers to apply for grants under the program opened on November 6, 2020, and it closes on December 7, 2020 at 11:59 pm. Applicants are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.
For a three-year period, the program will fund $100 million to not-for-profit and public healthcare providers who qualify for the pilot. The program will cover 85% of the cost of implementing telehealth at a provider’s office. Specifically, the pilot program covers: (1) patient broadband Internet access services; (2) health care provider broadband data connections; (3) connected care information services; and (4) certain network equipment. The pilot program does not cover purchases of devices or medical equipment used for patients. The remaining 15% of the costs are to be covered by the pilot recipients.
In order to apply, all applicants must have an approved FCC Form 460 and send both that form as well as other supporting documentation to the Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”). This verifies eligibility for the program. Once eligibility has been established, the provider must submit their proposal to the FCC explaining how they would use funds to meet the criteria of the program and implement telehealth. The FCC will give greater consideration to providers who anticipate working with a significant number of low-income or veteran patients. The Report and Order by the FCC goes into greater detail as to what should be included in every application.
This pilot program was unveiled in 2018 and formalized on March 31, 2020, but its implementation was temporarily delayed by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic. In early 2020 as part of a COVID-19 telehealth program, Congress granted $200 million to the FCC to help healthcare organizations purchase broadband and other telecommunications services for telehealth across the country. In fact, 500 organizations were benefitted by the COVID-19 telehealth program.
The success of the COVID-19 telehealth program and general telehealth usage over the summer of 2020 was extremely high. However, it remains unclear if the high utilization of telehealth will remain once the pandemic has slowed down. That is why all the data from the pilot program will be used to inform the FCC of policies to implement regarding telehealth. However, even if telehealth usage decreases, the FCC believes that low-income populations and veterans will still greatly benefit from increased accessibility to telehealth.
For over 35 years, Wachler & Associates has represented healthcare providers and suppliers nationwide in a variety of health law matters, and our attorneys can assist providers and suppliers in understanding new developments in programs directed at healthcare providers. If you or your healthcare entity has any questions pertaining to healthcare compliance, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.