On March 29, 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) adopted an Order establishing rules and procedures for Round 2 of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program (the “Program”) to continue supporting telehealth services, which have proved to be so vital during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a News Release accompanying the Order, FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel highlighted that “[t]his past year has proven, without a doubt, that telehealth technology is critical to helping address inequities in access to health care services” and that Round 2 of this program will help address these challenges “head on.”
Round 2 of the Program will provide $249.95 million dollars to fund telehealth and connected care services provided by eligible providers. The additional funds were approved by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (“Appropriations Act”), and will build on the initial $200 million the FCC awarded under the CARES Act. Despite industry requests to expand eligibility to receive the funds in Round 2 of the Program, the Commission declined to allow for-profit entities to apply.
COVID-19 Telehealth Program Overview
As we’ve previously discussed, the Program is intended to support health care providers’ use of telehealth services so patients can continue to access vital care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds may be used to purchase telecommunications services, information services, and connected devices to provide connected care services in response to COVID-19.
Round 2 Highlights
The application and eligibility requirements for providers to receive Round 2 funding are similar to those for Round 1 with a few changes noted below. The Commission will also utilize a single application filing window and a points-based metric system to award funding. The Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”) will administer the Program, with oversight by the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (“Bureau”) and the Office of Managing Director.
In a change from last year, there will be a single 7-day window to submit applications for Program funding in Round 2. Last year, the Bureau evaluated applications on a rolling basis, ultimately awarding the $200 million to 539 applicants between April 16, 2020 and July 8, 2020 in 14 rounds of award-making. For Round 2, the FCC received “overwhelming” support from commenters in favor of a single application window, and believe the abbreviated 7-day application period will help place all applicants on equal footing, but still allow the FCC to implement Congressional intent of providing funds quickly to worthy applicants.
The Bureau will provide at least two weeks advance notice before the application filing window opens, which is expected to occur by the end of April.
Award Recipients and Caps on Awards
In the Appropriations Act, Congress instructed the FCC to ensure that at least one applicant in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia receives funding under the Program at the conclusion of Round 2, if it is feasible. Last year, applicants from 47 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam received Program funds. The FCC is committed to equitably awarding Program funds nationwide, and the single application window noted above will allow USAC to collectively review applications to ensure that at least one applicant from each state ultimately receives Program funds, while still prioritizing an equitable distribution.
The FCC encourages eligible providers that unsuccessfully submitted applications last year to reapply in Round 2. These return applicants will receive an increase in points when their Round 2 applications are evaluated. Providers who did receive funding last year can also apply in Round 2, but there is no corresponding increase in points under the evaluation metrics USAC will use to rank the applications.
In Round 2, the FCC will continue to cap…