Pai Proposes $200M COVID-19 Telehealth Program

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Monday circulated among his colleagues for a vote a plan for a COVID-19 Telehealth Program to support health care providers responding to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As part of the CARES Act, Congress appropriated $200 million to the FCC to support health care providers’ use of telehealth services in combating the virus. 

If adopted by the Commission, the program would help eligible health care providers buy telecommunications, broadband connectivity, and devices necessary for providing telehealth services. These services would directly help COVID-19 patients and provide care to patients with other conditions who might risk contracting the coronavirus when visiting a healthcare provider—while reducing practitioners’ potential exposure to the virus.

Eligible health care providers, such as non-profit hospitals, teaching hospitals and nursing homes, could use the money to buy connectivity or patient monitoring devices, for example, FCC officials told reporters. The money can also be used to treat conditions other than the coronavirus, to conserve healthcare resources for patients who have COVID-19. 

The FCC created what officials call a “streamlined’ application process for the funding, which will be processed on a rolling basis. The Commission would award funds until the money is exhausted or the current pandemic is over.

The Chairman also presented his colleagues with final rules to stand up a broader, longer-term Connected Care Pilot Program. It would study how connected care could be a permanent part of the Universal Service Fund by making available up to $100 million of universal service support over three years. The move would help defray eligible health care providers’ costs of providing telehealth services to patients at their homes or mobile locations. 

It would place an emphasis on providing those services to low-income Americans and veterans. The pilot would allow funding for selected pilot projects to cover 85 percent of the eligible costs of broadband connectivity, network equipment, and information services necessary to create connected care services to the intended patient population.

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