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FCC Is Ready to Move Forward With Connected Care Pilot Program

The agency hopes to get the OK at its June commission meeting to post a second Report and Order on the program, which aims to boost telehealth adoption by funding broadband expansion projects.

By Eric Wicklund

– The Federal Communication Commission is ready to move forward with its Connected Care Pilot Program, which aims to help providers expand their telehealth networks through better broadband connectivity.

The FCC is working on a Second Report and Order for the program, which launched in April 2020 and selected 14 applications for funding this January. More than 200 applications were received during the application window for the $100 million program.

According to a report issued by the FCC in advance of its June 17 commission meeting, the agency’s second report will help clarify how it identifies eligible services and provide more details to applicants on funding commitments, reimbursement and other aspects of the program. It would also give the green light to those selected in the first round to launch their three-year projects.

“The Commission received more than 200 Pilot Program applications from many health care providers whose patients lack Internet connections sufficient to transmit a video visit or receive health care through connected care and providers who indicate that their systems and bandwidth are inadequate to carry the new and significantly increased loads,” the FCC said in its report. “The projects we expect to announce in the future, as well as those announced in January 2, will directly benefit thousands of low-income patients and veterans facing a wide variety of health challenges, such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke recovery, opioid dependency, high-risk pregnancy, pediatric heart disease, mental health conditions, and cancer. Through these projects, we will develop a better understanding of how the Universal Service Fund (USF or Fund) can help support the adoption of connected care services among patients and their health care providers.”

The effort marks a slow-and-steady approach from the FCC for this program, and a departure from how the agency launched and managed its COVID-19 Telehealth Program. That program quickly blew through its $200 million budget in 2020, funding some 540 programs, but faced criticism from lawmakers and others over vague requirements and rules and a lack of transparency.

The second round of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program launched in April, with $250 million in new funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and a pledge from the FCC to be more thorough in screening and approving applicants. The window for applications closed on May 6, and the FCC has yet to announce any award winners.

With the COVID-19 Telehealth Program and the Connected Care Pilot Program, the agency is focused on funding and supporting projects across the country that allow providers to improve the framework upon which connected care is delivered. Telehealth advocates say these programs are crucial to improving access to care for underserved and rural populations.

Source: mHealth Intelligence