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FCC Seeks Big Role in Telemedicine with New Fund

$100 million in federal funds may soon become available to help health care providers cover the costs of broadband and connected care services.  Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on a proposal, on which it will seek public comment, for a new “Connected Care Pilot Program,” and the comment period on that proposal has now begun.  The proposed program would direct money to telehealth initiatives, especially for medically underserved populations like low-income families and veterans.  The money would come from the Universal Service Fund (USF), which is an existing fund of fees paid by telecommunications service providers currently used for a variety of purposes. 

The details of the new program remain to be worked out.  In the proposal, the FCC seeks comment to help decide on how it should design the new program.  Should it limit its funding to efforts to treat chronic conditions?  Should it restrict participation only to health care providers?  To what extent should the costs of patients’ broadband internet access be covered?  How can the FCC avoid duplication of efforts and funding with existing support programs?  How many projects should it fund with its proposed $100 million, and how should it allocate the money among them?  For projects funded by the program, how much of the cost should be borne by the provider, as opposed to being paid for by the program?  What factors (serving rural areas, serving veterans, treating certain conditions, etc.) should it use in deciding between competing applications?

Health care providers and others are expected to provide responses to these questions in order to help form the FCC’s direction on how funds will be distributed.  The comment period, during which the public can offer those suggestions and respond to others’ comments, runs until September 30.  

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Russell H. Fox is a wireless communications attorney at Mintz. He guides clients through federal legislative, regulatory, and transactional matters. Russell also participates in FCC proceedings, negotiates spectrum agreements, and represents clients in spectrum auctions.