On April 13, 2020 the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) began accepting applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program (“Telehealth Program”), money which is part of the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“Cares Act”). The Telehealth Program will provide $200 million in funding to assist eligible healthcare providers deliver telehealth services to patients in their homes or other mobile locations to combat novel Coronavirus 2019 (“COVID-19”). The funding is available for eligible healthcare providers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by compensating providers for their telecommunication services, information services, and devices necessary for them to provide critical telehealth services.
The financial assistance comes at a much-needed time for healthcare providers who are facing numerous challenges in delivering care amid the COVID-19 pandemic and implementing measures to slow the spread of the virus.
As of April 22, 2020, roughly $7 million has been awarded to various health systems, including several academic medical centers. The recipients thus far plan to develop programs to either aid in treatment of people infected with the COVID-19 virus under quarantine conditions or that maintain care management for vulnerable populations at risk of becoming infected.
Providers who determine themselves eligible should apply as soon as possible, as applications are being selected on a rolling basis until funds have been depleted.
Eligible healthcare providers under the Telehealth Program are currently limited to those non-profit and public eligible care providers who meet the definition of “healthcare provider” under 47 U.S.C. §254(h)(7)(B), which includes:
- Post-secondary educational institutions offering healthcare instruction, teaching hospitals, and medical schools;
- Community health centers or health centers providing healthcare to migrants;
- Local health departments or agencies;
- Community mental health centers;
- Not-for-profit hospitals;
- Rural health clinics;
- Skilled nursing facilities (as defined in section 395i-3(a) of title 42; or
- Consortia of healthcare providers consisting of one or more entities described in items 1-7 above.
For purposes of the Telehealth Program, both rural and non-rural healthcare providers are eligible to receive funding. While the FCC has limited provider eligibility to the categories set forth in §254(h)(7)(B), the CARES Act does not require such a limitation. Because of the FCC’s decision, many healthcare providers do not qualify for Telehealth Program funding. To expand access to the Program, the American Hospital Association has filed a petition with the FCC requesting the Commission reconsider the scope of the eligible healthcare providers.
In addition to meeting the requirements above, healthcare providers must obtain an eligibility determination for each site on the application from the Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”) by filing USAC Form 460. Providers may apply for the Telehealth Program while their USAC eligibility determination is pending.
B. COVID-19 Telehealth Program Application
In advance of filing an application, the following should occur:
Obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN) from the Commission’s Registration System (“CORES”), as well as a CORES username and password.
File an FCC Form 460, to obtain Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) eligibility. The form can be found on the USAC webpage. As a reminder, for purposes of the Telehealth program, both rural and non-rural healthcare providers may apply.
Register with the federal System for Award Management (SAM).
C. Eligible Costs
Qualified providers are eligible to seek funding to purchase telecommunications services, information systems, and connected devices that are necessary to provide telehealth services to patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. The FCC has provided several examples of eligible services and connected devices that are eligible for funding under the Telehealth Program:
Telecommunications Services and Broadband Connectivity Services: Voice services for healthcare providers or their patients.
Information Services: Internet connectivity services for healthcare provider or their patients; remote patient monitoring platforms and services; patient reported outcomes platforms; store-and-forward services, such as synchronous transfer of patient images and data for physician interpretation; platforms and serves to provide synchronous video consultation.
Connectivity Devices/Equipment: Tablets, smart phones or connected devices to receive care connected services at home (e.g. broadband-enabled blood pressure monitors; pulse oximetry monitors) for patient or healthcare providers use; telemedicine kiosks/carts for healthcare providers sites. Only device that are inherently connected, such as pulse oximetry, blood pressure monitoring devices, etc., are eligible for funding under the Telehealth Program. Unconnected devices, i.e., those that patients may use at home and manually report results to their healthcare providers, are not eligible for funding.
Ineligible expenses include personnel, IT, administrative, training, and marketing costs. Eligible healthcare providers should take care to exclude any ineligible items from their funding application. In addition, to receive Telehealth Program disbursements, funded healthcare providers will be required to submit invoicing information and supporting documentation of their eligible expenses.
Cori Turner and Julian Rivera are partners at Husch Blackwell.