Details of FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program put to Question by Congress

Details of FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program put to Question by Congress

Congress is asking the FCC to provide weekly reports, beginning this week, on the number of providers approved for funding from the telehealth program, as well as those not approved and how much money has been dispersed.

 – Congress is growing increasingly worried that the Federal Communications Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program isn’t doing what it should be doing.

In a letter issued Friday to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and commissioners, US Reps. Frank Pallone Jr (D-NJ) and Michael Doyle Jr. (D-PA) are requesting weekly updates, beginning this week, on the number of applications received for funding from the $200 million program, as well as those approved for funding, those not approved for funding and the amount of money dispersed to healthcare providers.

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“While the FCC has posted weekly updates of funding awards, we are troubled by the lack of transparency regarding the health care providers who have applied but have not yet received an award,” Pallone, chair of the Commerce and Energy Committee, and Doyle, chair of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, wrote. “We have heard reports that many health care providers are facing issues obtaining funds, particularly those serving tribal lands.”

“Similarly, health care providers report they have been unable to receive funding for some important telehealth equipment that we believe should be covered under the law,” they added.

Just last week the FCC passed the midway mark in awarding funds from the program, with its 10th list of awards since the funds was created out of the CARES Act at the end of March. In all, the agency has reportedly approved $104.98 million in funding for 305 providers looking to develop or expand connected health programs in 42 states and Washington DC.

“Since the adoption of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, the FCC has acted quickly to review applications and approve funding so that more patients can be treated safely at home,” Pai said in a press release. “We have already awarded funds to health care providers across our country, from Maine to the Navajo Nation, Washington to Florida, and Minnesota to Mississippi. And we are already seeing the program’s positive impact on the health and wellness of our communities.”

The COVID-19 Telehealth Program is not a grant program. To receive disbursements, healthcare providers will be required to submit an invoicing form and supporting documentation to receive reimbursement for eligible telemedicine and mHealth expenses and services.

This isn’t the first time that Congress has raised concerns about the program.

In mid-May, lawmakers grilled Pai during a hearing on Capitol Hill about the status of the money already awarded to providers.

“How long is it going to take for the health care providers to actually get their checks?” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee, asked Pai during the May 19 hearing. Eshoo added she’d heard “there are major problems in getting the money out the door.”

Pai, who noted that the COVID-19 Telehealth Program was “a big priority for the commission” in prepared remarks, told the subcommittee that only one provider had so far presented a certified invoice required by the FCC for the award money.

“We will continue to process those as they come in,” he told Eshoo.

In their letter, Pallone and Doyle are now asking the FCC to give details on how the program is being run.

“Given the reports indicating that close to half of all doctors are using telehealth services to treat patients during the pandemic, Congressional oversight of the funding awards is critical, and the FCC must provide more public transparency of its decisions,” they wrote.

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