Telehealth is becoming a necessary practice for healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, not all providers have the means to institute a telehealth program. In order to help non-profit and public healthcare providers utilize telehealth, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES Act) set aside $200 million in funds for telehealth equipment, broadband connectivity, and information services. The FCC has recently released a guidance document that describes how eligible providers can apply for this “COVID-19 Telehealth Program” and the portal for applying will open today, April 13, 2020 at 12:00 PM ET.
Eligible providers include:
- 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 above.
These providers can apply for up to $1 million each to purchase “telecommunications, information services, and connected devices to provide connected care services in response to the coronavirus pandemic.” Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis so providers must apply for these funds as soon as they are available. The FCC has also indicated that it plans to target applicants serving high-risk and vulnerable patients, although the telehealth resources need not be directly related to treating COVID-19, and that applicants should indicate if they were under pre-existing strain (e.g., large underserved or low-income patient population; health care provider shortages; rural hospital closures; limited broadband access and/or Internet adoption). Other notable details of this funding opportunity include:
- The requirement to conduct competitive bidding for covered purchases will be waived for covered purchases, although providers should be cost-conscious;
- The standard prohibition on receiving gifts above nominal value will also be waived for items related to telehealth;
- Providers may NOT receive these funds and other federal or state funds that cover the exact same services/devices;
- Funding may NOT be used 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); and
- Eligible providers who have purchased telecommunications and/or telemedicine equipment after March 13 can apply for funding support for those and any subsequent purchases.
The application is available starting April 13, 2020 at 12:00 PM ET. These funds are first-come, first-served so providers should follow the following steps to be sure they are ready to apply:
- Obtain an eligibility determination from FCC to receive funds (if a provider does not have one already, they can file an FCC Form 460 with the Universal Service Administration Company at the same time they submit their application for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program);
- Obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN); and
- Register with System for Award Management (will help the award be processed quickly but can be done concurrently with applying for the telehealth funds).
The FCC will make an online portal available for completing and submitting applications and requests for funding here. Applicants can also use this link to find a webinar on April 13, 2020 at 11:00 AM ET to assist interested parties in navigating the application portal and answering FAQs about the program. More information will be posted on the Commission’s Keep Americans Connected page.
If you have any questions about the COVID-19 Telehealth Program please reach out to a BMD healthcare attorney.