The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a new $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program and is requesting public comment on the initiative.
The three-year pilot is intended to boost the use of telehealth for low-income patients, veterans and rural Americans by leveraging the FCC’s existing Rural Health Care Program authority.
The proposed pilot would be funded separately “so it would have no impact on the budgets of the four existing Universal Service Programs—Lifeline, Rural Health Care, E-Rate and High-Cost (rural broadband support),” according to the FCC.
Specifically, the agency is seeking comment on the budget, duration, and structure of the new program, which it contends will help health care providers defray the costs of purchasing broadband Internet access required to provide connected care services directly to underserved populations.
“We are proposing to allow eligible healthcare providers to obtain up to 85 percent of the costs of the broadband needed to provide remote patient monitoring and similar connected care technologies to their patients,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr in a written statement. “The program would support a limited number of projects over a three-year period with controls in place to measure and verify the benefits, costs and savings associated with connected care.”
According to Carr, the goal is to “extend treatment beyond the four walls of the hospital and enable more patients to receive high-quality medical care wherever they are.”
Carr, who came up with the idea for the Connected Care Pilot Program, invited all healthcare providers and the public to review the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and to provide their feedback to the FCC.
In particular, the agency is interested in public comments regarding who should be eligible to participate in the pilot program—including the types of providers and the areas of the country they might serve—as well as the proposed targeting of health conditions impacting millions of Americans, such as diabetes, heart disease, mental health and substance use disorder.
At the same time, Carr acknowledged that the pilot program “won’t solve every challenge—there are licensing and reimbursement issues that are beyond our expertise.” However, he noted that the FCC is working with the Departments of Health and Human Services and the Veterans Administration, as well as state and local agencies.
“I hope that the Connected Care Pilot Program will help us obtain data that will allow policymakers to chip away at some of the broader set of barriers to telemedicine adoption,” Carr concluded. “From chronic disease management to pediatric cardiology, from PTSD to opioid dependency, this pilot has the potential to make a real difference for low-income individuals that currently lack access to quality healthcare.”
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