Health Care Providers May Begin Obtaining Eligibility Determinations from USAC
The FCC has released a Public Notice providing further detail on its proposed three-year, $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program to improve health care through telehealth services in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the pilot program, health care providers will team up with internet service providers to enable patients to access health care services through telehealth when they cannot access a health care provider’s physical location. The Connected Care Pilot Program falls under the Universal Service Fund’s (USF) Healthcare Connect Fund and seeks to alleviate eligible health care providers’ costs of providing connected care services, specifically for veterans and low-income Americans.
Health care providers will apply for the program’s funds and, if selected, they will need to seek competitive bids for the eligible items using the same rules as the Health Care Connect Fund Program. JSI recommends that as a broadband provider you should be on the lookout for any health care providers in your area that are preparing to apply for, or may not know about, the Connected Care Pilot Program. Service providers may inform health care providers of the Connected Care Pilot Program. However, it is important to remember that competitive bidding requirements for the Health Care Connect Fund Program apply and require that the competitive bidding process is fair, open, and free from conflicts of interest. Service providers are not allowed to prepare, sign, or submit the applicant’s Form 461 or be involved in the development of bid criteria or participate in the bid evaluations.
As the FCC continues to finalize the Connected Care Pilot Program, the Public Notice and following information below provide important details on eligible participants, eligible costs, eligible services, the application process and what steps you can take now to ensure you are ready to go once the pilot program has been implemented and the application portal is open.
The Design and Structure of the Pilot Program
The FCC has proposed $100 million over a three-year funding period with separate transition periods of up to six months before and after the three-year funding period. The program will be separate from the budgets of existing universal service programs.
Before applying, the prospective health care provider must first submit FCC Form 460 and supporting documentation to USAC to determine their eligibility and obtain a Health Care Provider Number (HCP Number) for each site where they intend to use pilot program funding to provide connected care services.
The program is health care provider driven so the next step is for the eligible health care provider to apply for the program, describing the proposed project and how it will use connected care services to serve the health care needs of participating patients. The health care providers will design their proposed pilot projects, select the service provider for the supported services and network equipment, and identify and enroll the qualifying participating patients. Some of the information required for an application will include the following:
- Applicant information, including lead entity and health care provider information;
- Conditions to be treated and program’s goals, objectives and proposed metrics;
- Information on the anticipated level of patient broadband service required, the estimated number of patient broadband connections that the health care provider intends to purchase, the percentage of patients in participating population that lack level of broadband services required for telehealth services, and a description of the information service;
- Health care provider’s experience and its plans for implementing the pilot project;
- Additional information on the geographic area and patient population to be served; and
- Information on estimated eligible funding needs and the need for funding.
The FCC does not anticipate that applications will be accepted before November 2020 and has yet to announce the application portal’s opening and closing dates.
Eligible Health Care Providers
All eligible nonprofit and public health care providers that fall within the statutory categories under Section 254(h)(7)(B), regardless of whether they are non-rural or rural, can apply. Eligible nonprofit or public health care providers include:
- Postsecondary 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 first seven categories.
In selecting health care providers, the FCC has a strong preference for ones that have experience with providing telehealth or connected care services to patients beyond using electronic health records, or a partnership with another health care provider, government agency, or designated telehealth resource center with such experience.
Eligible Broadband Service Providers
Eligible health care providers that participate in the Pilot Program can receive support for qualifying broadband service from any broadband provider, regardless of whether that provider is designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC).
The program will provide funding for selected pilot projects to cover 85% of the eligible services and network equipment, including patient broadband Internet access services, health care provider broadband data connections, other connected care information services, and certain network equipment (e.g., equipment necessary to make supported broadband service function such as routers).
These costs do not include devices, end-user connected devices (e.g., tablets, smart phones or remote patient monitoring equipment), medical equipment, health care provider administrative costs, personnel costs, other miscellaneous expenses, or the construction of networks between health care providers or connectivity services between health care provider sites.
JSI is available to assist clients learn more about the Connected Care Pilot Program and what you can do, as a service provider, to prepare for when the application portal opens. If you have any questions about the program or would like JSI to assist your healthcare customers where such assistance is allowed, please contact Terri DeLong in JSI’s Texas office at 512-338-0473 or Chresanthe Staurulakis in JSI’s Maryland office at 301-459-7590.