On May 8, 2020, the FCC released a Public Notice seeking feedback on a Petition for Partial Reconsideration filed by the American Hospital Association (“AHA”) that asks the Commission to expand the eligibility for its COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which makes available $200 million under the CARES Act to support telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligibility for the program is currently limited to non-profit and public eligible health care providers that fall within the following categories:
- post-secondary educational institutions offering health care instruction, teaching hospitals, and medical schools;
- community health centers or health centers providing health care to migrants;
- local health departments or agencies;
- community mental health centers;
- not-for-profit hospitals;
- rural health clinics;
- skilled nursing facilities; or
- consortia of health care providers consisting of one or more entities falling into the categories above.
The AHA requests that the FCC expand eligibility for the program “to all types of hospitals and other direct patient care facilities regardless of their size, location or for-profit or not-for-profit status, including but not limited to rural and urban short-term acute-care, long-term acute care, critical access hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.” It argues that COVID-19 impacts the entire healthcare system – from the largest hospitals to individual caregivers – and there is no requirement in the CARES Act for the FCC to limit eligibility to non-profit and public health care providers. Oppositions (or other comments) to the Petition are due 15 days after the Public Notice is published in the Federal Register, which has not yet occurred.
Several parties have already voiced their support for AHA’s Petition and/or expanding the program, including the American Dental Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, HCA Healthcare, the National Association of Accountable Care Organizations, Prime Health Care, the Rural Hospital Coalition (which recently reiterated its support), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And FCC Commissioner O’Rielly recently tweeted that “not all for-profit hospitals are the same,” suggesting that patients of for-profit hospitals could be missing out and that he would be “open to reconsidering” the issue.
Thus far, the FCC has announced five rounds of funding under its COVID-19 Telehealth Program, approving 56 applications for a total of $24.9 million in funding out of the $200 million that has been made available.