|Footnotes for this article are available at the end of this page.
The information below is current as of June 8, 2020.
As of June 3, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved nine sets of applications under the FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program (the “Program”), awarding approximately $84.96 million to 238 awardees across 41 states and Washington D.C. The Program will provide $200 million in funding, appropriated by Congress as part of the CARES Act, to help health care providers furnish connected care services to patients at their homes or mobile locations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of the date of this article, approximately $115 million is still available for eligible health care providers.
Program funding can be used by providers to purchase telecommunications services, information services, and the devices necessary to provide connected care (telehealth) services to patients in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Examples of eligible services and connected devices that may be funded with award monies include:
- Telecommunications Services and Broadband Connectivity Services: Voice services for health care providers or their patients; mobile data plans; software licenses; and video-conferencing licenses.
- Information Services: Internet connectivity services for health care providers or their patients, such as network upgrades and mobile hotspots; 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; and platforms and services to provide synchronous video consultation.
- Connected Devices/Equipment: Tablets, smart phones, or connected devices to receive connected care services at home (e.g., broadband-enabled blood pressure monitors or pulse oximetry monitors) for patient or health care provider use; telemedicine kiosks/carts for health care provider sites; laptop computers or tablets; and diagnostic equipment.
Provider Eligibility and the Meaning of “Public”
For the purposes of the Program, the FCC defines “eligible health care providers” as nonprofit and public providers that fall within certain categories of health care providers in section 254(h)(7)(B) of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.1 Because the funds are provided to support the use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Program is not limited to providers in rural areas, unlike many other telehealth grant opportunities. All “eligible health care providers” in both rural and non-rural areas and the U.S. Territories may apply for funding.
While the term “public” typically refers to a government facility, the FCC has indicated that an “eligible health care provider” owned and operated by a county hospital authority or other local governmental entity may potentially qualify as a public provider for the purposes of the Program. However, the determination of eligibility for the Program is fact-specific and can only be made conclusively by the FCC during the formal review process. Thus, the FCC encouraged hospital authorities or other local governmental authorities interested in seeking Program funding to submit an FCC Form 460 to obtain an official eligibility determination.2
Any providers who have not evaluated eligibility or submitted an application still have time, as the FCC will continue to accept and review applications until the funding is exhausted or the current COVID-19 pandemic has ended.
The Program application page notes that eligible providers should complete several preliminary steps before submitting an application:
- Create an FCC Registration Number (FRN) and username and password in the Commission Registration System (CORES). An FRN is a 10-digit number that is assigned to a business or individual registering with the FCC and is used to identify the registrant’s business dealings with the FCC.
- Obtain an eligibility determination from the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) by filing FCC Form 460 through My Portal on USAC’s webpage. (Filers do not need to be rural health care providers in order to file Form 460 for this program.)
- Register with the federal System for Award Management (SAM). Note that SAM registration requires that the provider obtain a Data Universal Number System (DUNS) Number, so this should be completed in advance as well. Note that providers with an active SAM registration do not need to register again.
However, the FCC’s FAQs further note that health care providers may submit their applications while their eligibility determinations from FCC Form 460 are pending with USAC, though no funding will awarded until the applicant has been determined to be an eligible health care provider.
Since the application portal opened on April 13, 2020, the FCC has been actively and quickly processing applications. The agency has been making funding decisions on a rolling basis, and has been announcing awardees on approximately a weekly basis since mid-April. Because the process for seeking a determination of eligibility is relatively straightforward, any providers interested in additional funding to support the provision of telehealth services to patients should consider requesting an official eligibility determination.
For more information about the requirements of the Program or for help assessing potential eligibility, please contact Lanchi N. Bombalier or Madison M. Pool.
 The following categories of health care providers that may be eligible for Program are: (1) post-secondary educational institutions offering health care instruction, teaching hospitals, and medical schools; (2) community health centers or health centers providing health care to migrants; (3) local health departments or agencies; (4) community mental health centers; (5) not-for-profit hospitals; (6) rural health clinics; (7) skilled nursing facilities; or (8) consortia of health care providers consisting of one or more entities falling into the first seven categories.
 Providers who have already been deemed eligible to participate in the FCC’s existing Rural Health Care Programs do not need to submit an additional eligibility determination request for the Program.