The FCC recognizes that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic represents extraordinary and unprecedented public health challenges, and has taken the necessary steps to provide relief to health care providers (HCPs) through the release of Orders and Waivers.
While USAC’s Washington, DC office is closed, the RHC Division remains fully operational. RHC Program staff will work remotely and continue to process and review forms and implement guidance from the FCC. We will continue to update this page and announcements with information about FCC releases.
USAC, the FCC, and other Federal government programs have taken the necessary steps to provide relief to health care providers (HCPs) through new orders and waivers. Support for Rural Health Care providers includes:
- Additional time. The FCC extended the FY2020 RHC Program application filing window and granted additional relief to RHC Program participants by extending invoicing deadlines/information request deadlines and allowing participants to carry over evergreen contacts from FY2019.
- More flexibility. The FCC has waived the gift rules allowing service providers to offer, and HCPs to solicit or accept, free upgrades, connected devices, networking equipment, services, and other things of value.
- More funding opportunities. The FCC has created more funding opportunities through the Covid-19 Telehealth Program and Connected Care Pilot in addition to the rollover of unused funds from prior years to cover the higher demand for FY2019.
Report and Order 20-44: $200 Million COVID-19 Telehealth Program; $100 Million Connected Care Pilot Program
On April 2, 2020 the FCC adopted Report and Order FCC 20-44 establishing a $200 million COVID-19 Telehealth Program to help health care providers furnish connected care services to patients at their homes or mobile locations in response to the novel Coronavirus 2019 disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and also a longer-term Connected Care Pilot Program.
The COVID-19 Telehealth Program, funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, will provide immediate support to health care providers responding to the pandemic by providing funding for telecommunications services, information services, and devices to enable the provision of connected care services. Visit the FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program website for complete information about the program. Please note that the COVID-19 Telehealth Program is limited to nonprofit and public eligible health care providers.
A separate Connected Care Pilot Program will provide up to $100 million of support over a three-year period from the Universal Service Fund (USF) to help defray health care providers’ costs of providing connected care services and/or equipment and to help assess how the USF can be used in the long-term to support telehealth.
Summaries of each program are below. Additional resources will be provided soon.
Covid-19 Telehealth Program (Covid-19 Program)
The COVID-19 Telehealth Program (Covid-19 Program) is a $200 million program funded by the CARES Act to provide relief to health care providers, and will be administered by the Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB). This program will allow health care providers to purchase telecommunication services, information services, and devices to provide connected care services for the treatment of COVID-19 or other conditions during the pandemic in order to free up resources to allow health care providers to treat COVID-19 patients or prevent the spread of COVID-19. Health care providers are eligible to receive full funding for eligible services and equipment, up to an anticipated $1 million cap per applicant. Funding is available, until the $200 million budget is expended or the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.
Participants can be located in rural and non-rural areas but must meet the other RHC Program eligibility requirements. Please note, the COVID-19 Telehealth Program is limited to nonprofit and public eligible health care providers that fall within the categories of health care providers in section 254(h)(7)(B) of the 1996 Act. USAC will determine eligibility for the program using the existing Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF) Program FCC Form 460. Selected applicants may also participate in the Connected Care Pilot Program and in the other RHC Programs as long as they are not applying for duplicate services or equipment.
Given the immediate need to award and disburse the COVID-19 Telehealth Program funding to health care providers, COVID-19 Telehealth Program participants will not be required to conduct a competitive bidding process or otherwise comply with the competitive bidding requirements that apply to the RHC Program.
Applications will be accepted by WCB on a rolling basis. WCB, in consultation with the FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force, will evaluate the COVID-19 Telehealth Program applications and will select participants based on applicants’ responses to the criteria listed in the Report and Order. Their goal is to select applications that target areas that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 and where the support will have the most impact on addressing the health care needs.
For more information about the FCC’s application process for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, please see the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program website.
Connect Care Pilot Program
The Connected Care Pilot Program (CC Pilot Program) will make available up to $100 million over a three-year period, and will provide funding to cover 85% of the eligible costs of broadband connectivity, network equipment, and information services to provide connected care services to the intended patient population. The CC Pilot Program is funded through the USF using a separate budget from existing USF support programs. The CC Pilot Program is focused on supporting pilot projects that primarily benefit low-income Americans and Veterans. The three explicit goals for the CC Pilot Program are to: 1) improve health outcomes through connected care, 2) reduce health care costs for patients, facilities and the health care system and 3) support the trend toward connected care everywhere.
USAC will determine eligibility for the program using the existing FCC Form 460. Participants can be located in rural and non-rural areas, but must meet the other RHC Program eligibility requirements. Eligible health care providers can then submit applications for the CC Pilot Program.
The Bureau will announce the deadline for filing pilot project proposals and instructions for filing project proposals with the FCC in a subsequent public notice. CC Pilot Program applications will be due 45 days from OMB approval of the information collection, or by July 31, 2020, whichever comes later. WCB will publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing receipt of OMB approval.
Successful applicants will be able to demonstrate that they have a strategic plan for delivering connected care services and explain how the program will accomplish their objectives while leveraging existing resources. Selected applicants may also participate in the COVID-19 Telehealth Program and in the other RHC Programs as long as they are not applying for duplicate services or equipment.
Approved CC Pilot Program participants will have up to six months from the date of their initial funding commitment letter from USAC to organize and start their pilot projects (including, but not limited to procuring eligible services or network equipment), and up to six months after the funding end date on their final funding commitment letters to complete any necessary administrative tasks.
Order DA 20-345: Additional Relief Provided to HCPs Due to COVID-19
On March 26, 2020, the FCC released Order DA 20-345, granting additional relief to RHC Program participants to ensure that HCPs have the resources they need to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the Order takes the following actions: (1) extends the FY2020 RHC Program application filing window until June 30, 2020; (2) eases competitive bidding requirements for HCPs with expiring evergreen contracts; and (3) provides an extension of procedural deadlines to respond to information requests, to deliver non-recurring services in the Healthcare Connect Funds (HCF) Program, to file invoices in the HCF Program, and to file appeals to USAC and the FCC.
Order DA 20-290: Waiver of the RHC Program Gift Rules
On March 18, 2020, the FCC issued Order DA 20-290, waiving the RHC Program’s gift rules to provide assistance to rural HCPs responding to COVID-19. The gift rules waiver removes regulatory obstacles that would otherwise prevent a service provider from voluntarily offering equipment or services to HCPs to help them improve connectivity and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic more effectively. Specifically, the Order:
- Allows service providers to offer, and for HCPs to solicit or accept, free upgrades, connected devices, networking equipment, services and other things of value.
- Waives the requirement that prohibits a service provider from reducing the unsubsidized portion of charges for services paid by HCPs.
- Waives the requirement that HCPs pay the urban rate for services provided in the Telecom Program.
These waivers are limited to HCPs involved in the screening and treatment of patients for COVID-19 and for providing services to other patients in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The waivers are in effect through September 30, 2020.
Order FCC 20-30: FCC Announces Increase to Rural Health Care Funding for FY2019
The total RHC Program demand for FY2019 was $719.48 million, which exceeded the $677.29 million in previously available funding. The Order permits USAC to carry forward additional unused funds from prior years to cover this funding gap, thus allowing for full funding of all eligible RHC Program funding requests filed during the FY2019 filing window, and waives the funding cap on multi-year commitments and upfront payments. Read FCC Order 20-30.