FCC Opens Application Portal for $200 Million Telehealth Fund, Publishes Participation Requirements, and Removes Competitive Bidding Process

On Monday, April 13, the FCC began receiving applications for the $200 million COVID-19 Telehealth Fund (“the Fund”) appropriated by the CARES Act passed last month. The FCC will review applications on a rolling basis until the funds run out or the current public health crisis ends.

The FCC has removed competitive bidding requirements for health care providers in order to accelerate fund distribution and deployment, noting “the immediate need to award and disburse” the new funds. The FCC has also eliminated caps on gifts and transfers of “things of value” between telecom companies and health providers during the period of emergency, citing easier distribution of devices and equipment.

As a result, telecom providers and vendors may provide quotes and other assistance to Health Care Providers (HCPs) to support their applications for funding. The FCC has signaled it will be capping payouts to $1 million per applicant. Telecom providers must be HIPAA compliant and comply with current Rural Health Care Program (RHCP) requirements.

Because the fund is authorized under the CARES Act as opposed to the Communications Act, eligibility extends beyond the existing RHCP. The FCC will extend CARES Act funding to upgrading telehealth capacity for non-rural and for-profit emergency rooms. Broadening telehealth support eligibility and reducing the burden on health and telecom providers are both part of the FCC’s aggressive strategy to rapidly remake the American telehealth landscape in the face of this public health emergency.

All FCC statements regarding these emergency funds have emphasized that the government’s highest priority is ensuring telehealth capability to all health care providers and professionals, not just traditional telehealth consumers. The Commission has significantly reduced procedural hurdles obstructing this goal and may well reduce regulatory and compliance burdens even further if the desired telehealth service expansion does not occur with sufficient speed.

If you have questions about your company’s eligibility for CARES Act telehealth funding, HIPAA compliance, or connecting with Health Care Providers, contact Linda G. McReynolds at lgm@commlawgroup.com or 703-714-1318.

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