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FCC Launches $100 Million Telehealth Pilot Program

On August 2, 2018 the FCC unanimously adopted a Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) seeking comment on creating the “Connected Care Pilot Program,” a Universal Service Fund (“USF”) pilot program. The program aims to improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs by promoting broadband-enabled telehealth service adoption among low-income families, particularly in rural, unserved, or underserved parts of America, as well as with veterans.

The NOI seeks comment on numerous aspects of the proposed pilot program:

  • The goals of the connected care telehealth support;
  • The statutory authority for the program under section 254 of the Communications Act;
  • The design of the connected care pilot program, including:
    • the proposed $100 million program budget for 20 projects, with $5 million of the budget dedicated to funding broadband connectivity to low-income patients;
    • the application process and types of telehealth pilot projects that should be funded;
    • eligibility criteria limiting program participation to:
      • healthcare providers that serve low-income patients;
      • broadband service providers that are section 214-eligible telecommunications carriers;
      • low-income consumers that are Medicaid-eligible or cost-free healthcare eligible veterans;
    • the broadband and other communications services, service standards, and equipment that should be supported;
    • whether 2-3 years is the right duration for the program; and
    • how to measure the effectiveness of pilot projects in achieving the goals of the program and whether the FCC should require clinics, hospitals, and/or ETCs to report certain data

Commissioners O’Rielly and Rosenworcel said they remain skeptical of the FCC’s authority to conduct the pilot program, and Rosenworcel said the FCC “cannot borrow from the authority of the Lifeline program for a new project without first reconciling the damage it has proposed to do to those who already depend on it.” Commissioner Carr said the $100 million for grants would not come from Lifeline funding, but would be a one-time infusion of USF money and touted the program’s potential to spur broadband deployment and achieve better health outcomes and cost savings.

Comments are due September 10, 2018, and reply comments are due October 10, 2018.