The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) voted in favor of adopting a $200 million telehealth program, as appropriated by the CARES Act, to help healthcare providers purchase telecommunications devices and broadband connectivity.

“In the midst of the national emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic, our call has taken on serious urgency,” Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “Connected care can help us treat coronavirus patients, enable patients with other conditions to get care while maintaining social distancing, and protect health care professionals from greater exposure.”

The telehealth program is an emergency response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. It’s meant to provide immediate support to telehealth programs by funding infrastructure to support healthcare providers’ sudden transition to telehealth. Providers must apply for the funding and applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

At the March 31 vote, FCC also finalized rules for the Connected Care Pilot Program. The three-year pilot provides up to $100 million to the Universal Service Fund to aid adoption of connected care services and assess how the Universal Service Fund can be used in the future to support telehealth programs.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly disagreed with the agency’s adoption of the “half-cooked” pilot program. While he voted in favor of the emergency telehealth funding, he said that the approval of the pilot program was “rushed out the door to take advantage of the current crisis, even though there’s barely anything about it that’s expedited or related to COVID-19.” Specifically, he raised concern with funding provisions and the lack of an economic analysis of the program.

Commissioner Brendan Carr argued that the two programs are, in fact, linked, “We were able to move so quickly on the COVID-19 Program – acting just days after the CARES Act was signed into law providing the $200 million in funding for that program – because of the work we have been doing at the FCC over the past two years on the Connected Care Pilot.”

FCC will begin accepting applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth program when the Office of Management and Budget posts approval and information collection requirements in the Federal Register.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.