On March 30, 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a second round of funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program (the Program). The Consolidated Appropriations Act enacted in December 2020 appropriated $249.95 million for the Program, in addition to the $200 million which had been awarded in Round 1. There are substantial changes in procedures for Round 2 in comparison to Round 1. Rather than accepting applications on a rolling basis, the FCC will establish a seven-day application window. The FCC has established metrics to be followed for prioritizing and evaluating applications, and has announced the intention to fund applicants from each state and territory to the extent feasible. Finally, the new procedures will include a process for notifying a potentially unsuccessful applicant of the intent to deny its application, allowing the applicant to submit additional information.
The FCC intends to provide a two week notice of the opening of the application window within 30 days of the March 30 order. Any applicants who submitted an application in Round 1 will be required to submit a new application for Round 2. Applicants whose applications were denied in Round 1 will be awarded additional points under the new metrics. Applicants who were successful in Round 1 will be able to reapply if the need for funding continues. The metrics for prioritizing applications will support these priorities:
- Hardest hit areas
- Low income areas
- Round 1 unfunded applicants
- Tribal communities
- Critical access hospitals
- Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), FQHC look-alikes, and disproportionate share hospitals
- Healthcare provider shortage areas
- Round 2 new applicants
- Rural counties.
Round 2 funding will be limited to $1 million per approved applicant. As the FCC required in Round 1, applicants will be required to submit FCC Form 460 and to register with the System for Award Management.
The FCC defines a COVID-19 “hardest hit” area as an area designated as either a “sustained hotspot” or “hotspot” on the COVID-19 Community Profile Report, Area of Concern Continuum by County dataset maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services. “Low income area” will be determined using both county and census tract poverty data. With regard to healthcare provider shortage areas (HPSA) as designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration, five points will be awarded to applicants with a HPSA score of 1 to 12, and ten to applicants with a HPSA score of 13 to 25.
The FCC will award at least $150 million to the highest scoring applicants. Unsuccessful applicants will have ten days to supplement their applications, and remaining funding will be distributed after this period. The FCC has provided a list of eligible services and devices, and described those costs, services and devices which are ineligible for funding. Funding is available for connected devices, network equipment, telecommunications services, broadband connectivity services and information services such as remote patient monitoring platforms.