On April 29, 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will begin accepting applications for the second round of its COVID-19 Telehealth Program (the “Program”). However, the application filing window will only be open for a very short seven day period and will close on May 6, 2021. To give all applicants an equal opportunity to have their applications reviewed, the FCC announced that all applications filed during this period will be reviewed once the application filing window has closed.
Initially, in March 2020, Congress appropriated $200 million for the first round of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program funding under the CARES Act. An additional $249.95 million was provided to the FCC in December 2020, under the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), to helping address inequities in access to health care service. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program was designed to help health care providers purchase telecommunications equipment, broadband connectivity, and other devices necessary for providing telehealth services to rural, low-income and underserved populations.
The Program is limited to nonprofit and public health care providers (47 U.S.C. § 254(h)(7)(B)) that fall within the following 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 one of the first seven categories.
The FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program is not a grant, rather it is an award program where eligible health care providers may receive reimbursements for certain qualified telemedicine and mHealth expenses and services. The funds awarded to providers through this Program have been designated by the FCC to support “the efforts of health care providers to continue serving their patients by providing telecommunications services, information services, and connected devices necessary to enable telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
There is a two-step process for health care providers that want to be apply for and be considered for this funding opportunity. Initially, health care providers must be deemed eligible by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). Providers that have not already been deemed eligible under other FCC programs can obtain an eligibility determination by filing FCC Form 460 with the USAC. Form 460 requires basic information about the health care provider, including a brief explanation of why the provider is eligible under the statute for the FCC programs. Providers submitting new Form 460s may still submit a COVID-19 Telehealth Program application, the second step in the process, while their USAC determinations are pending.
The FCC’s recent announcement regarding the second round of this Program emphasized the FCC’s focus during this second round on improving how they choose awardees, including their intent to pay more attention applicants offering services to hardest-hit and low-income areas. If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about this unique award program, please contact the Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. attorney who regularly handles your legal matters, or one of the authors of this blog post.