The Federal Communications Commission FCC on Thursday released plans to open applications for a $100 million pilot program to promote telehealth services.
Applications for the FCC’s Connected Care Pilot Program open Friday and will close Dec. 7.
The Connected Care program will distribute up to $100 million over three years to not-for-profit and public healthcare providers to help defray broadband costs related to bringing telehealth to low-income Americans and veterans. The program will cover 85% of the cost of select services and network equipment, such as internet access for patients.
The FCC said providers will not be able to use program funds to purchase devices or medical equipment for patients.
“In the past year, connectivity has become an increasingly critical component of delivering healthcare services in our country,” said Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “With the opening of this application window, affirms its commitment to driving the future of healthcare delivery and supporting innovative pilot projects across the country.”
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr first unveiled plans for the Connected Care program in 2018, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike existing healthcare programs, such as the agency’s Rural Health Care Program, the pilot was designed to focus on projects that connect patients with healthcare services outside of a hospital.
Carr previously said that data from the Connected Care program will likely be used to inform future agency policies around telehealth.
Providers have largely expressed excitement about the program; however, some hospital groups had hoped to see the FCC open up the program to for-profit hospitals.
The FCC in less than three months exhausted $200 million that Congress had allocated for the agency to use to help healthcare organizations purchase broadband and telecommunications services for telehealth as part of a separate program focused on COVID-19 response. The $200 million went to more than 500 organizations as part of the program, dubbed the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.
While telehealth soared in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s unclear to what extent that momentum will continue. Recent research has indicated telehealth visits are declining as hospitals reopen for non-emergency care; however, telehealth utilization in the summer still sat at a notably higher rate than before the pandemic.