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FCC Announces Program for Health Care Providers to Receive Up to $1 Million to Cover Telehealth Costs

Learn How and Apply ASAP

April 4, 2020

What happened?
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, on March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act into law, providing, among other things, $200 million to the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to support health care providers in the fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In turn, on April 2, 2020, the FCC established the “$200 Million Emergency COVID-19 Telehealth Program” (the “COVID-19 Telehealth Program”) and issued a corresponding “Report and Order” that instructs eligible providers on how to apply for up to $1 million dollars each to cover their telehealth costs.

What’s the COVID-19 Telehealth Program?

  • The COVID-19 Telehealth Program will provide eligible health care providers with financial support to purchase telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to provide telehealth services for the treatment of coronavirus or other health conditions during the pandemic.
     
  • The COVID-19 Telehealth Program will provide selected applicants full funding for eligible services and devices[1]. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program has a congressionally appropriated $200 million budget, and these funds will be available until they are expended or until the current pandemic has ended. In order to ensure as many applicants as possible receive available funding, the FCC 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, as described in each health care provider’s respective application. However, in order to give each health care provider maximum flexibility, the FCC will allow the applicants to purchase the services and connected devices they need beyond those identified in their applications. In addition, applicants that have exhausted initially awarded funding may request additional support at a later date to the extent funds remain.

Who’s Eligible?

  1. Provider Types? “Non-profit” and “public” health care providers, as defined in 47 U.S.C § 254(h)(7)(B), are eligible. This list includes and is limited to:
  • not-for-profit hospitals;
  • teaching hospitals, medical schools, and post-secondary educational institutions offering health care instruction;
  • community health centers or health centers providing health care to migrants;
  • skilled nursing facilities;
  • local health departments or agencies;
  • community mental health centers;
  • rural health clinics; and/or
  • a consortia of health care providers consisting of one or more entities falling into the aforementioned seven categories.
  1. Provider Locations? The COVID-19 Telehealth Program will be open to eligible health care providers, whether located in rural or non-rural areas (i.e. anywhere in the U.S.).
     
  2. How does the FCC determine if a health care provider is eligible? Interested health care providers that do not already have an eligibility determination from the FCC can obtain one by filling an FCC Form 460 with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which is available on the FCC’s website (see link below).[2] The FCC has directed the USAC to review and process eligibility forms for health care providers interested in participating in the COVID-19 Telehealth Program as expeditiously as possible. Most importantly, health care providers that are interested in the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, but do not yet have an eligibility determination from USAC, can still submit applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program while their FCC Form 460 is pending.

Are the FCC’s funds to be used only to support the treatment of COVID-19 patients?

  • No. In its Report and Order, the FCC specifically states that “[w]hile health care providers may use the COVID-19 Telehealth Program to treat patients that have COVID-19, the program is not limited to treating those types of patients as long as program funds are used ‘to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.’ For instance, treating other types of conditions or patient groups through the “... COVID-19 Telehealth Program could free up resources, including physical space and equipment in a brick-and-mortar health care facility, allow health care providers to remotely treat patients with other conditions who could risk contracting coronavirus by visiting a health care facility, and could reduce health care professionals’ unnecessary exposure to coronavirus. We will also consider as part of a health care provider’s application a showing that telemedicine directly aids in the prevention of pandemic spread by facilitating social distancing and similar measures in the community.” “In addition, given the public health emergency and widespread scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not target COVID-19 Telehealth Program funding toward specific medical conditions, patient populations, or geographic areas.”
     
  • The COVID-19 Telehealth Program will not provide funding for health care provider administrative costs associated with participating in the COVID-19 Telehealth Program (e.g., costs associated with completing COVID-19 Telehealth Program applications and other submissions) or other miscellaneous expenses (e.g., doctor and staff time spent on the COVID-19 Telehealth Program and outreach). COVID-19 Telehealth Program funds may only be used for services and devices covered under the CARES Act. The costs of ineligible items must not be included in the reimbursement requests for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. To guard against potential waste, fraud, and abuse, participating health care providers are prohibited from selling, reselling, or transferring services or devices funded through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program in consideration for money or any other thing of value.

When can providers apply? 

According to the FCC’s Report and Order, and in order to ensure that the FCC can promptly support health care providers currently working to address the ongoing pandemic, the FCC will begin accepting applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program immediately after publication of this Report and Order and notice of the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) approval and publication of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program application form. The FCC hopes it will be approved and published in early April. We recommend that your organization remain vigilant and on the “lookout” for the application. In the meantime, we recommend that you immediately start gathering the information that the application will request (see more on that below in question #7 of this Alert).

What’s the application process?

The Order and Report states that the FCC has established a separate, streamlined application process in order to more expeditiously address the needs of eligible health care providers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, under the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, eligible health care providers must submit an application to the Bureau with sufficient information that will allow the Bureau to make selections and funding amount determinations.

What information will the application ask for?[3]

To be considered for participation in the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, interested eligible health care providers must submit applications that, at a minimum, contain the information detailed below.

  • Names, addresses, county, and health care provider numbers (if available), for health care providers seeking funding through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program application and the lead health care provider for applications involving multiple health care providers;
  • Contact information for the individual that will be responsible for the application (telephone number, mailing address, and email address);
  • Description of the anticipated connected care services to be provided, the conditions to be treated, and the goals and objectives. This should include a brief description of how COVID- 19 has impacted your area, your patient population, and the approximate number of patients that could be treated by the health care provider’s connected care services during the COVID- 19 pandemic. If you intend to use the COVID-19 Telehealth Program funding to treat patients without COVID-19, describe how this would free up your resources that will be used to treat COVID-19 and/or how this would otherwise prevent, prepare for, or respond to the disease by, for example, facilitating social distancing;
  • Description of the estimated number of patients to be treated;
  • Description of the telecommunications services, information services, or “devices necessary to enable the provision of telehealth services” requested, the total amount of funding requested, as well as the total monthly amount of funding requested for each eligible item. If requesting funding for devices, description of all types of devices for which funding is requested, how the devices are integral to patient care, and whether the devices are for patient use or for the health care provider’s use. As noted above, monitoring devices (e.g., pulse-ox, BP monitoring devices) will only be funded if they are themselves connected;
  • Supporting documentation for the costs indicated in their application, such as a vendor or service provider quote, invoice, or similar information; and
  • A timeline for deployment of the proposed service(s) and a summary of the factors the applicant intends to track that can help measure the real impact supported services and devices.

Where, how and when do I submit the application?

  • Applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program must be submitted through the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) (see https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs) under WC Docket No. 20-89;
  • The FCC will begin accepting applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program after publication of this Report and Order and notice of Office of the Managing Director’s (OMD) approval of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program information collection requirements in the Federal Register. Interested parties should not submit applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program prior to publication of notice of OMD’s approval of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program information collection requirements and this Report and Order in the Federal Register. In order to facilitate the application process, the Bureau will provide an application form titled “COVID-19 Telehealth Program Application and Request for Funding” that applicants must use when submitting their applications;
  • All filings must be addressed to the FCC’s Secretary, Office of the Secretary, Federal Communications Commission;
  • The FCC’s hand-delivery filing location is closed for the foreseeable future and cannot be used to submit applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program;
  • Applicants must also send a courtesy copy of their application via email toEmergencyTelehealthSupport@fcc.gov; and
  • For questions, please contact (1) Rashann Duvall at (202) 418-1438, Rashann.Duvall@fcc.gov or (2) Hayley Steffen at (202) 418-1586, Hayley.Steffen@fcc.gov.

How will the evaluation and selection process work?

  1. Who’s reviewing the applications? The FCC instructed the Wireline Competition Bureau (“Bureau”) to review the COVID-19 Telehealth Program applications, select participants and make funding awards as rapidly as possible and on a rolling basis until the funding is exhausted or until the current pandemic has ended, consistent with the criteria outlined in the FCC’s Report and Order.
     
  2. How will the process work? The Bureau, in consultation with the FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force, will evaluate the COVID-19 Telehealth Program applications and will select participants based on applicants’ responses to the criteria listed in the Order and Report. The FCC’s goal is to select applications that target areas that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 and where the support will have the most impact on addressing the health care needs. As indicated above, the funds for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program will be awarded on a rolling basis until they are exhausted or until the current pandemic ends. Upon selection, the Bureau will provide additional guidance to program participants, as necessary, to facilitate the implementation of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.
     
  3. Will there be any public funding announcements? Yes. The Bureau will announce (i.e. make public) the selected applicants and funding awards under the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.

How will the funds be dispersed to health care providers?

  • The FCC has directed the Bureau and the OMD to develop processes for selected applicants to submit invoices and receive reimbursements for services and devices supported through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, and any necessary subsequent filings. The FCC has also directed OMD and the Bureau to include in the application forms or subsequent filings by program participants any information necessary to satisfy the FCC’s oversight responsibilities and/or agency specific/government-wide reporting obligations associated with the $200 million appropriation by Congress and the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. After receiving the eligible services and/or equipment, health care providers will submit invoicing forms on a monthly basis and supporting documentation to the FCC to receive reimbursement for the cost of the eligible services and/or devices they have received from their applicable service providers or vendors under the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The Bureau and OMD shall develop a process for reviewing the monthly invoicing forms and supporting documentation and for issuing disbursements directly to the participating health care providers rather than to the applicable service providers or vendors. COVID-19 Telehealth Program health care provider participants will be required to make certifications as part of the invoicing form submission to ensure that COVID-19 Telehealth Program funds are used for their intended purpose.
     
  • The FCC believes that the aforementioned funding and disbursement process is designed to provide funds to participating eligible health care providers as soon as possible due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the country and the increasing need for connected care services to assist in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of the coronavirus disease and that more extensive administrative requirements could delay the provision and use of COVID-19 Telehealth Program funds to assist in combatting this pandemic and could result in serious harm to patients. Accordingly, the FCC believes that the benefit to the American public in using this streamlined invoicing process outweighs any administrative concerns in processing and distributing funds in this manner.

Where can I get a full copy of the FCC’s Report & Order?
Please see https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-fights-covid-19-200m-adopts-long-term-connected-care-study

 

[1] The COVID-19 Telehealth Program will only fund monitoring devices (e.g., pulse-ox, BP monitoring devices), that are themselves connected. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program will not fund unconnected devices that patients can use at home and then share the results with their medical professional remotely.

[2] See USAC, Rural Health Care Program, Healthcare Connect Fund Program, Determine Eligibility of Your Site, https://www.usac.org/rural-health-care/healthcare-connect-fund-program/step-1-determine-eligibility-of-your-site (describing the process for submitting an FCC Form 460 to receive an eligibility determination for a health care provider site). The FCC Form 460 can be accessed through the FCC’s website at https://www.fcc.gov/licensing-databases/forms (last visited Mar. 24, 2020). Each separate site or location of a health care provider is considered an individual health care provider site for eligibility determination purposes. See 47 CFR § 54.601(a)(2). As detailed above, the COVID-19 Telehealth Program is open to eligible health care providers in both rural and non-rural areas—eligible health care providers located in non-rural areas do not need to be part of a consortium to participate in the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. For any questions concerning the FCC Form 460, health care providers should call USAC’s RHC Program staff at RHC-Assist@usac.org or by phone at (800) 453-1546. Pursuant to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA), the FCC plans to seek OMB approval to use the FCC Form 460 and attachments for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.

[3] The FCC also states that it recognizes that some applications could contain confidential information. Applicants may request that any materials or information submitted to the FCC in its application be withheld from public inspection pursuant to the procedures set forth in section 0.459 of the FCC’s rules. See 47 CFR § 0.459.

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