FCC will begin accepting applications for its $250M COVID-19 telehealth program starting April 29

Woman having telehealth visit on her laptop
Healthcare providers will have one week to submit applications to the second round of the program, which the Federal Communications Commission said will be more transparent and better prioritize rural and at-need organizations. (Getty/Drazen Zigic)

The Federal Communications Commission has set a date for healthcare providers to submit applications for the second round of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which will distribute nearly $250 million to support telehealth services.

The window opens at noon on April 29 and will last one week until May 6, 2021, according to the FCC. Interested providers will be able to submit their applications through a dedicated portal to be made available on the agency’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program webpage.

“For over a year, health care providers have fought on the front lines of this pandemic and have had to rapidly innovate to support the health and well-being of all Americans. Telehealth has been at the forefront of this effort and I’m pleased to announce that additional support is just around the corner,” Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement released Thursday.

“Today the FCC announced it will open the application process for the second half of COVID-19 Telehealth Program funding later this month. The FCC is dedicated to moving quickly to review and approve applications for this funding to support health care providers and patients across the country,” she said.

The second wave of funding builds on last year’s $200 million program outlined by Congress’ CARES Act, which appropriated the money “to support efforts of health care providers to address coronavirus by providing telecommunications services, information services and devices necessary to enable the provision of telehealth services” over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the FCC, that initial volley of funds was fully issued to 539 applications between April and July last year.

RELATED: FCC boosts funding for rural healthcare providers

The $249.95 million allotted for the second round of the program comes via the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed in December, which instructed the FCC to review the metrics used to evaluate funding applications. As a result, the agency adopted a report on March 30 laying out the requirements and procedures for the second round’s awards.

According to the document, the program will now be reviewing all of the submitted applications collectively rather than on a rolling basis “to provide a level playing field to all applications, regardless of size or resource level.” The report also included the 100-point rating scale that will be used to evaluate applications for the grant money, which prioritizes factors such as COVID-19 impact, the surrounding area’s income, whether the applicant was funded in the first round and whether the applicant is located in a rural county.

"The program requirements we adopt today strike the right balance between ensuring a wide and equitable distribution of funding and promoting the widest possible participation of health care providers," Commissioner Brendan Carr said in a statement accompanying the March 30 report.

"The reliance on telehealth technology will continue to grow, even as the nation starts to see relief from this devastating pandemic. While we are in a much stronger position than we were when the COVID-19 Telehealth Program was initially adopted, we are not out of the woods yet. That is why we must continue to move swiftly on this second round of awards," he said.

The second round of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program is just one example of the U.S. government’s collective support of telehealth technologies throughout the course of the pandemic.

Some health subcommittee leaders in the House have been clear on their positions that Medicare telehealth expansions should persist beyond the public health emergency. Several lawmakers in the Senate also resurfaced the topic Thursday during Chiquita Brooks-Lasure’s confirmation hearing for her nomination as administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.