March 30, 2020 –Federal Communications Commission officials praised the adoption of telehealth aid contained within the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that Congress passed and President Trump signed on Friday.
Of more than $2 trillion, the CARES Act allocates $200 million to telehealth, as the rise of coronavirus has prompted the need for this service that has traditionally been unadopted in the American healthcare system.
As coronavirus sweeps the United States, some see telehealth as an increasingly important as a method for providing care without exposing patients to germs. While telemedicine is costly and not yet widely used, the CARES Act fund will help to increase availability and access.
A senior FCC official stressed that agency Chairman Ajit Pai intends to send out the funds as soon as possible in a practical way and help those healthcare providers who are in the most immediate need.
FCC staff said that to prolong the budgeted amount, applicants for the telehealth funds will not receive more than $1 million in aid per applicant.
Eligible healthcare applicants include:
- 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 above categories
Pai also plans to roll out a $100 million pilot program.
The Connected Care Pilot Program will be a longer application process. By the time the pilot program starts, the FCC is hopeful that the pandemic will be over or controlled, and then the program will roll out for three years.
While there is increased network usage on wireless networks during working hours, the networks have still reported positive updates, said FCC staff. Networks and carriers have been able to adjust to the increased need.
Wireline and wireless services are available under the program. This decision will be left to the healthcare providers to choose which service suits their needs.
The $200 million will be available to rural and urban areas alike; it is not solely a rural telehealth program, clarified FCC staff.
Among the actions already taken by the FCC to foster remote learning during the COVID-19 disease from the novel coronavirus, the FCC has “waived gift rules in the Rural Health Care and E-Rate programs to make it easier for broadband providers to support telehealth and remote learning efforts during the pandemic,” according to an FCC press release.