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Federal Funding for COVID-19 Telehealth Program

On April 2, 2020 the Federal Communications Commission instated $200 Million of Funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, technology-enabled healthcare providers have transformed the way patients are serviced during widespread lockdowns, something traditional healthcare services have struggled to manage. Telehealth advances allow healthcare providers to provide patients with access to healthcare services without needing to visit offices, thus, reducing the risk of contamination and spread of the virus.

In response to the outbreak, on April 2, 2020, in connection with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $200 million COVID-19 Telehealth Program was established with the FCC to support healthcare providers in the fight against the ongoing pandemic. This program is distinct from the broader Connected Care Pilot Program that was also adopted on April 2, 2020, with a separate, congressionally appropriated budget of $200 million, to help eligible healthcare providers maximize their provision of connected care services during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The program is intended to elevate the use of technology in the healthcare industry to allow our providers to treat patients in need not only now during this pandemic, but in a more efficient and safe manner going forward. There are a number of tools that are expected to be implemented through this program including virtual doctor visits and patient monitoring tools.

Conditions for Eligibility for Telehealth/Telemedicine:

  • The COVID-19 Telehealth Program is limited to nonprofit and public eligible healthcare providers that fall within the categories of healthcare providers in section 254(h)(7)(B) of the 1996 Act:
    • Post-secondary educational institutions offering healthcare instruction, teaching hospitals and medical schools.
    • Community health centers or health centers providing healthcare to migrants.
    • Local health departments or agencies.
    • Community mental health centers.
    • Not-for-profit hospitals.
    • Rural health clinics.
    • Skilled nursing facilities.
    • Consortia of healthcare providers consisting of one or more entities falling into the first seven categories.
If you have any questions or request assistance, please contact a member of Withum’s professional team.

Examples of Eligible Services and Devices Under COVID-19 Telehealth Program:

  • Telecommunications Services and Broadband Connectivity Services: Voice services and internet connectivity.
  • Information Services: Internet connectivity services for healthcare providers or their patients; 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.
  • Connected Devices/Equipment: Tablets, smartphones, or connected devices to receive connected care services at home (e.g., broadband-enabled blood pressure monitors; pulse oximetry monitors) for patient or healthcare provider use; or telemedicine kiosks/carts for healthcare provider sites.

Costs to implement these telehealth services within the healthcare environment could be extremely expensive, but the hope is that this funding will allow healthcare providers around the country to adopt the digital service offerings to better care for their patients.

The interesting next steps will be seeing how healthcare providers react to enabling telehealth services within their organization and what they can do to quickly implement this. A full implementation of the right software may not be a quick enough solution to address the rapid need of health services within the environment of the pandemic today. Some of the recent partnerships we’re seeing as a direct result of this is as follows:

  1. SCP Health, a healthcare staffing company, has recently partnered with SOC Telemed, an acute-care telemedicine services company. This partnership will allow for an increased usage of SOC Telemed’s IQ platform which will be staffed by SCP Health in order to meet the needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and potential future telehealth needs and the healthcare environment evolves.
  2. CareFirst and the MedChi has recently announced a partnership to provide independent physician practices with five or fewer members in Maryland the telehealth solutions that they need in order to deliver care. This partnership will be with DrFirst, a telehealth solutions provider, and will be in place until December 31, 2020. This partnership will equip additional Maryland physicians with the technology they need to provide needed virtual care during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

As the healthcare systems continue to meet the demand of telehealth services, we expect more of these partnerships to occur which will create significant demand for the digital health startups equipped to handle this environment.

As social distancing measures continue to be enhanced and in place during this pandemic, the healthcare industry is certainly going to have an interesting outlook for the future. Part of this change comes on the heels of the current administration and many states waiving restrictions on providing telehealth solutions based on HIPAA guidelines during the state of emergency. While it is unsure how long this will last, this could open the door to further legislation that supports the reliance on technological innovations. This is leading to significant increases in volume on healthcare providers who have already implemented telehealth services. With these recent changes, the hope is that the healthcare environment will continue to look to technological advances to further enhance their ability to deliver healthcare services in a new manner. The new norm may not be that regular visits will occur in a brick and mortar facility, but will instead be done via virtual visits and through technological tracking tools.

Filing for the Pilot Program

The deadline for filing applications for the Pilot Program will be 45 days from the effective date of the Pilot Program rules (applications have begun to be accepted on April 13, 2020) or 120 days from the release date of the Report and Order, whichever is later. The FCC does not anticipate awarding more than $1 million to any single applicant. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program application form is available here.

Author: Alexander Dundara, CPA | adundara@withum.com

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