COVID-19 continues to push the federal government to eliminate barriers to full-scale adoption of telehealth services.
Following a March 17, 2020 announcement that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would relax telehealth restrictions on Medicare and make telehealth available for a broader number of patients, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.
The program, which uses $200 million appropriated as part of the CARES Act, will help eligible healthcare organizations invest in telehealth services and devices to help maximize the delivery of connected care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Who is Eligible to Receive Funds through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program?
The program is limited to nonprofit and public healthcare providers. For-profit hospitals are not eligible. Eligible providers include:
- Post-secondary educational institutions offering health care instruction, teaching hospitals, and medical schools
- Community health centers
- 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
What is Eligible for Reimbursement?
Program funds can be used to purchase telecommunications, information services, and connected devices necessary to provide telehealth services to patients in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The program will only fund devices that are Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connected, including devices that connect to a patient's wireless phone. Unconnected devices that patients can use at home and then manually report the results to their medical professional will not be reimbursed.
Examples of covered services and devices:
- Telecommunications and broadband connectivity services, such as voice services, used by providers or their patients to provide telehealth services.
- Information Services, such as internet connectivity services, remote patient monitoring platforms and services, patient-reported outcome platforms, store and forward services, and platforms and services to provide two-way video consultation.
- Connected devices and equipment, such as 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 health care provider use, or telemedicine kiosks/carts for healthcare provider sites.
Eligible providers may apply to receive funding support for eligible services and devices purchased on or after March 13, 2020. This means those facilities who acted immediately after the declaration of the national health emergency to obtain or expand telehealth services could have eligible expenses.
Additionally, the telehealth services provided do not necessarily need to be aimed at treating COVID-19 patients. Eligible services can be in response to the pandemic. For example, using video visits, remote patient monitoring and in-hospital e-visits in order to have more personal protective equipment available for providers on the frontlines or providing high-risk patients with connected devices to be able to serve them from their homes to keep them socially distant.
How to Apply for Funding
The Wireline Competition Bureau began receiving application forms and supporting documentation for the Program on April 13. As of April 21, there are 11 health systems who have been awarded approximately 7 million dollars out of the $200 million available.
Interested participants can apply online. However, there are a few simple steps that need to be completed prior to filing:
- Obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN) from the Commission Registration System (CORES), as well as a CORES username and password at that link. 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 healthcare providers to submit Form 460 for this program.)
- Register with the federal System for Award Management (SAM).
No deadline has been set for the filing of applications. The FCC is trying to limit the funds awarded to no more than $1 million per applicant and will continue to accept and review applications until the funding is exhausted or the current COVID-19 pandemic has ended.
Additional Telehealth Incentives
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, CMS has expanded Medicare's telehealth benefits under the 1135 waiver authority and the CARES Act, notably allowing reimbursement for a range of healthcare providers to offer telehealth services to beneficiaries who can receive those services in any healthcare facility, as well as their homes.
The CARES Act also allows for distant site telehealth services furnished by any health care practitioner working for an RHC or FQHC, setting the payment to these facilities at $92 per service, instead of their all-inclusive rate.
For more information on the FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program and how your organization might apply, or to discuss the recent changes in Medicare telehealth reimbursements, please contact the HORNE Healthcare Team.