The Federal Trade Commission (FCC) has adopted the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, a $200 million financial package to support care providers in delivering virtual treatment to their patients.
The funding was appropriated from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The program is meant to help care providers purchase telehealth services and IT infrastructure to meet their needs for virtual care during the coronavirus pandemic.
This is welcomed federal support that specifically targets the nation’s telemedicine needs, which follows the OCR’s decision to temporarily lift HIPAA telehealth restrictions to make it easier for care providers to deliver remote treatment.
As with most government legislation and literature, the fine print of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program is a bit difficult to parse.
With everything else going on, we thought we’d do the parsing for you.
Please find the program’s most important details, in their simplest terms, below.
What Kind of Services Will the COVID-19 Telehealth Program Pay For?
- Telecommunication Services: Voice services for providers or their patients
- Information Services: Internet connectivity services for providers or their patients, remote patient monitoring technology, patient outcomes reporting technology, video conferencing services
- Necessary Devices/Equipment: Tablets, smart phones, remote patient monitoring equipment for patient or provider use
How Do I know If I’m Eligible for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program?
Well, that’s a two part question.
The FCC requires healthcare organizations to achieve eligibility for the program in two ways:
- Eligibility for receiving funding from the program
- Eligibility for participating in the program
We agree – that does sound like the same thing.
Think of it this way – you can be eligible to receive funding from the program, but not eligible to actually participate in it. However, you can’t be eligible to participate in the program without being eligible to receive funding in the first place.
Did that just make things more confusing? Don’t worry, read on for clarification.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible to Receive COVID-19 Telehealth Program Funding?
Only certain types of healthcare organizations are eligible to receive funding.
The program is limited to nonprofit and public healthcare providers that fall under the following categories from the Telecommunications Act of 1996:
- Teaching hospitals, medical schools, post-secondary organizations that offer health care instruction
- Community health centers or health centers that provide health care to migrants
- Local health departments/agencies
- Community mental health centers
- Not-for-profit hospitals
- Rural health clinics
- Skilled nursing facilities
In addition to satisfying one of the above criteria, an organization must register with the federal System for Award Management (SAM) to receive COVID-19 Telehealth Program funding.
If you are already registered with SAM, you are all set.
If not, go to the SAM website to create an account and register your organization. You will need the following information:
- DUNS number
- Taxpayer Identification Number
- Employment Identification Number
- Bank’s routing number
- Bank account number
- Bank account type
How Do I Find Out If I’m Eligible to Participate in the COVID-19 Telehealth Program?
To participate in the program, providers must be determined eligible by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).
Alternatively, you can email the completed form to RHC-Assist@usac.org.
If you are a multi-site organization, be mindful that each site must obtain an eligibility determination – each site you hope to receive funding for from the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, that is.
Because so many care providers’ telemedicine needs are urgent, you do not need to wait for the USAC’s determination before applying for the program. You will not receive funding until you are determined to be eligible, though.
The COVID-19 Telehealth Program Application Process
Warning: more bureaucracy ahead.
Before you can submit an application, your organization must obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN) through the FCC’s Registration System (CORES).
You may be asking, “what if I’m not even registered with CORES?”
If that is the case, you can set up an account here.
Once your CORES account has been activated, you will be able to register for an FRN.
After your FRN is generated, you can file the COVID-19 Telehealth Program application here. The FCC has provided further guidance on the application process here.
How Will The FCC Evaluate COVID-19 Telehealth Program Applications?
Care providers will be evaluated and awarded funding based on the following criteria:
- The conditions that will be treated using program funding
- How an organization plans to use program funding
- A timeline for the implementation of the proposed services and/or devices funded by the program
- The metrics an organization plans to use to measure the impact of the teleheath services and/or devices funded by the program
- Geographic location
- Any pre-existing challenges associated with that geographic location, such as healthcare provider shortages, rural hospital closures, and limited access to the internet
- Population served by the organization
- Any pre-existing challenges associated with that population, such as communities with limited access to healthcare, limited internet adoption, and low-income patients
- If the organization is targeting high-risk and vulnerable patients with program funding
Any Other COVID-19 Telehealth Program Details I Should Know About?
In short, yes.
Here are some other important facts you should be aware of:
- Organizations were able to apply for program funding on April 13, 2020, so we are still in the early stages of this program. If you are eligible and in need of this funding, it is recommended to apply as soon as possible.
- There is no participant limit, timeframe or deadline for applying to the program. The FCC will accept and review applications until the funding runs out or the coronavirus pandemic ends.
- There is no established funding cap for the program, though the FCC does not plan on awarding more than $1 million to any one applicant.
- Eligible organizations can apply for retroactive program funding for relevant services and/or devices that were purchased on or after March 13, 2020.
- Organizations that receive funding for services and/or devices are required to submit invoicing forms and supporting documentation on a monthly basis to the FCC.
So, that was a lot!
We hope you have a better understanding of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program and the steps your organization needs to take if you are eligible and interested.
Even though there is a finite amount of funds to go around, we still encourage due diligence at this time. It is a good idea to research multiple telemedicine options before applying for the program.
The coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed the world’s healthcare systems, so care providers and related industries are still learning how to best meet an unprecedented need for virtual care.
Telehealth service providers in particular have seen a huge spike in demand over the last few months. Some have been able to accommodate this surge. Others have floundered under the weight of immense increases in users.
As a result, any telehealth services your organization considers should be vetted properly. We suggest you be especially attentive to how they have responded to this global health crisis.
Because of the bureaucracy and regulatory adventures associated with the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, you want to be confident in your choice of service provider when you apply.
If you are looking for a reliable telehealth solution, you may be interested in what Sigmund has to offer. We recently made AURA TeleHealth, our enterprise EHR’s integrated video conferencing tool, available as a standalone product.
If you’re curious to see how Sigmund can provide your organization with dependable telehealth services, we’d love to talk to you about it.
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