FCC Opens Inquiry into Establishing a $100 Million Telehealth Program

By Tricia Kaufman

On August 2, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched an inquiry seeking comment regarding a $100 million telehealth Connected Care Pilot Program for the purpose of meeting the growing need for remote health monitoring for underserved populations. Money for the program would come from the Universal Service Fund (USF), which was established to facilitate connectivity in rural and low income areas. "Given the significant cost savings and improved patient outcomes associated with connected care, [FCC] should align public policy and support of this movement in telehealth," remarked Commissioner Brendan Carr. Indeed, in a statement issued on August 3, Commissioner Carr cited several examples of substantial savings in health care costs brought about through connected health care, especially in the management of chronic diseases, such as diabetes. As stated in the Notice of Inquiry, Connected Care seeks to focus on low-income households, especially veterans and those in rural areas.

Although she voted to approve the NOI, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel expressed concern that the program expands beyond the originally intended rural beneficiaries and, as a result, would divert funds away from them. While she acknowledged the potential health benefits of remote monitoring, Commissioner Rosenworcel suggested that the FCC's Lifeline program—which offers consumer discounts on phone and internet bills—is the proper authority under which a more broad- based subsidy for remote monitoring is authorized.

FCC is seeking public comments on the proposed program's goals, design and statutory authority, including, among other issues:

  • The goal of improving health outcomes among low-income patients through broadband access, including comments regarding the role of broadband in improving health outcomes, how the program can improve outcomes for particular demographics and geographies and whether the program should focus on particular diseases or health conditions
  • The design of the program, including the budget
  • Criteria for participation for health care providers and telecommunications carriers, the types of projects that should be funded and the modalities of broadband service that should be supported
  • The broadband services and equipment that should be supported
  • Measuring and verifying the benefits, costs, and savings
  • FCC's legal authority to establish the program and whether it is consistent with the universal service provisions of the Federal Communications Act

To proactively shape the program's direction, stakeholders should consider providing comments on or before September 10, and reply to comments on or before October 10. Comments can be filed electronically by accessing the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System or by paper following the instructions provided in the Notice.

For more information on the FCC's Notice of Inquiry regarding the funding of a new telehealth access program, please contact Russell Frisby, Joel Schwartz, Traci Bransford, Tricia Kaufman or the Stinson Leonard Street contact with whom you regularly work.

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