The COVID-19 Telehealth Program - An Overview of the Application Process for Health Care Providers
On April 2, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established the COVID-19 Telehealth Program to distribute $200 million in aid dedicated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to support telehealth services. Certain health care providers may apply for funding beginning April 13, 2020. This article identifies the health care providers and telehealth services eligible for funding and outlines the steps necessary to file an application for the program.
Funding through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program is limited to nonprofit and public health care providers that fall into one of the following eight categories:
- 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.
Both rural and non-rural provider sites as well as temporary or mobile locations of eligible health care providers qualify for funding. Relatedly, a concern of limiting aid to nonprofit and public providers is that certain hospitals may be overlooked. For example, small and mid-sized hospitals that are part of a for-profit health care system may be in need of telehealth support, but are considered ineligible for it.
Eligible health care providers may receive funding to support telecommunications services, information services and devices necessary to provide critical connected care services. The FCC does not anticipate awards greater than $1 million per applicant, and the funding is not intended to develop new websites, systems or platforms but, rather, to support eligible connected care services and devices. The following are examples of services and devices that may be included in an application for funding:
- Telecommunications Services and Broadband Connectivity Services: Voice services and internet connectivity services for health care providers or their patients.
- Information Services: Remote patient monitoring platforms and services; patient reported outcome platforms; store and forward services, such as asynchronous transfer of patient images and data for interpretation by a physician; platforms and services to provide synchronous video consultation.
- Internet Connected Devices/Equipment: tablets, smart phones or connected devices to receive connected care services at home (e.g., broadband enabled blood pressure monitors; pulse-ox) for patient or health care provider use; telemedicine kiosks/carts for health care provider site.
Eligible health care providers that purchased telecommunications services, information services and/or devices in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on or after March 13, 2020 may also include these retroactive costs in their application for funding support.
Applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program may be completed on the FCC’s web site. All interested providers must have an FCC Registration Number (FRN) in order to complete the application process. Providers must also obtain an eligibility determination from the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC); however, it is possible to submit an application while a provider’s eligibility determination is pending. In order to receive funding, providers must also register with the System for Award Management, but registration is not necessary to submit the application.
The application will seek general information about the applicant and health care provider including the applicant’s FRN, National Provider Identifier (NPI), Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) and Data Universal Number System Number (DUNS). The applicant must also indicate the medical services to be provided and conditions to be treated with the COVID-19 Telehealth Program funding. The total amount of funding requested must be included, and the applicant will have the opportunity to provide additional information or documentation supporting their request. Applications will be reviewed by FCC staff as they are received and, in consultation with the FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force, applications will be selected for funding based on the applicant’s responses to the following criteria:
- The conditions to be treated using the COVID-19 Telehealth Program funding.
- The goals and objectives for use of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program funding.
- The timeline for deployment of the proposed service(s) or devices funded by the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.
- The factors/metrics the applicant will use to help measure the impact of the services and devices funded by the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.
- The geographic area and population served by the applicant. and whether that geographic area has been under any 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).
- The health care providers’ targeting of funding to high-risk and vulnerable patients.
Applications for funding will be accepted until the program’s funds have been expended or the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. Additional information on the COVID-19 Telehealth Program is available on the FCC’s web site. Furthermore, as civil rights laws and the HIPAA Privacy Rule continue to adapt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, health care providers offering telehealth services should regularly consult the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) web site.
Should you have any questions regarding the Telehealth Program, please contact Ms. Rubin.
Anna L. Crisp, a law clerk with Eastman & Smith who is finishing her third year at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, contributed to this article.
At the date of publication the above information was correct. It is quite possible the information above has changed as COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving situation.
The article in this publication has been prepared by Eastman & Smith Ltd. for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney/client relationship.