- The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved the first round of funding for hospitals and health systems to provide telehealth in areas hit hardest by the novel coronavirus.
- Six providers received more than $3.2 million from the $200 million fund set aside for telehealth by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act stimulus package Congress passed by last month.
- New York is the largest coronavirus hotspot in the U.S., accounting for roughly one-third of COVID-19 deaths. Two providers in the state received funding: Hudson River Healthcare received $753,367 to expand its virtual frontline COVID-19 testing and New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System received $312,500 for telehealth for geriatric and palliative care patients.
The speedy injection of CARES funding for telehealth is the latest in a string of moves from Washington to expand virtual care access amid the pandemic, which has infected almost 700,000 people in the U.S. so far. It also comes after multiple administrations proved reticent to lower regulatory barriers to virtual care.
Prior to the pandemic, patients and doctors alike were leery of digital healthcare delivery. In a move that garnered broad support, the Trump administration expanded traditional Medicare to cover telemedicine in mid-March, and many major commercial payers have similarly waived co-pays for digital COVID-19 testing or treatment.
The $2.2 trillion CARES Act set aside $200 million in funding to support nonprofit and public providers' telecommunications infrastructure, IT network and hardware to provide telemedicine to patients in their communities. FCC released the first round of funding just three days after opening the application window to hospitals and health systems.
Along with the two New York systems, Oschner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans received $1 million for telehealth infrastructure for high-risk and vulnerable patients; Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta received $727,747 to implement video visits and remote patient monitoring in patients' hospital rooms; Neighborhood Health Care in Cleveland received $244,282 to provide virtual care for Cleveland's low-income West Side neighborhoods; and UPMC Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh received $192,500 for telehealth services for immunocompromised children with organ transplants.
FCC did not respond to a request for comment about how many applications the agency received. But it began accepting applications for the money on Monday and plans to distribute the rest of the funds on a rolling basis.
The communications agency last year voted to approve a three-year $100 million pilot program aimed at improving access to telehealth services for low-income people and those in rural areas, though health tech stakeholders lobbied for more funds for providers.