March 31, 2020 3:44AM ET
(Inside Health Policy)
The Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai on Monday (March 30) proposed using $200 million allocated by Congress for a grant program for hospitals and health system providers aiming to use telehealth in their COVID-19 response.
The $200 million comes from the third coronavirus stimulus package that was signed into law on Friday (March 27). According to senior FCC officials, providers would be able to use a streamlined application to apply for funding to fully cover their telehealth needs, from broadband connectivity to devices. Officials said they do not expect to award more than $1 million to a single applicant.
Eligible providers may be in post-secondary education programs, including teaching hospitals, community health centers, local health departments or agencies, community mental health clinics, non-profit hospitals, rural health clinics, and skilled nursing facilities. Providers that are selected would not be responsible for the costs of their telehealth projects, officials said, and would be accepted on a rolling basis until funds are exhausted or the pandemic ends.
For-profit hospitals will not be allowed to apply, which senior officials said is to ensure funds are targeted to facilities most in need.
“My plan for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program is a critical tool to address this national emergency. I’m calling on my fellow Commissioners to vote promptly to adopt the draft order I circulated today, so that we can take immediate steps to provide support for telehealth services and devices to health care providers during this national crisis,” Pai said in a statement.
Krista Drobac, executive director of the Alliance for Connected Care, said the group was pleased with the proposed grant program, but called on commissioners to vote on it quickly.
“There are health care providers who need this support to be able to offer telehealth. Changing policy is one important step but if a provider doesn’t have the budget to operationalize telehealth, that’s a whole different problem that the FCC is trying to help solve with Congress’s allocation of funds,” she said.
Both Congress and CMS have loosened telehealth requirements and expanded access in recent weeks to allow providers to remotely access patients.
Additionally on Monday, Pai proposed final rules for the Connected Care pilot, a three-year grant program for health care providers who propose projects for low-income or veteran patients. The grant program would make $100 million available to providers and selected projects would have 85% of their costs covered. The funding would come out of the Universal Service Fund and would not be awarded on a rolling basis. — Chelsea Cirruzzo (firstname.lastname@example.org)