Nowhere is bridging the digital divide more critical than in the area of health care. Today, whether it's through remote patient monitoring or mobile health applications accessed via smartphones, tablets, or other devices, advances in broadband-enabled health technologies are allowing patients to receive care wherever they are located. These connected care services can lead to better health outcomes and significant cost savings for patients and health care providers alike. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel sees access to telehealth care services—especially for underserved and marginalized communities—as a top priority.
Connecting to Health Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The FCC has implemented a number of initiatives to help keep Americans connected to critical health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- COVID-19 Telehealth Program: The FCC established a $200 million COVID-19 Telehealth Program to help health care providers provide connected care services to patients at their homes or mobile locations in response to the pandemic. The program provided immediate support to eligible health care providers responding to the pandemic by fully funding their telecommunications services, information services, and a wide array of devices necessary to provide critical connected care services. The FCC set up Round 2 of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, a $249.95 million federal initiative that builds on the $200 million program established as part of the CARES Act. The FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program supports the efforts of health care providers to continue serving their patients by providing telecommunications services, information services, and connected devices necessary to enable telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the program, the agency has approved funding applications in every state, territory and Washington, D.C. The final wave of funding awards were announced on January 26, 2022.
- Supporting Telehealth by Waiving Gift Rules: The FCC waived gift rules in the Rural Health Care programs to make it easier for broadband providers to support telehealth during the pandemic. The waiver will allow healthcare providers to accept improved capacity, Wi-Fi hotspots, networking gear, or other equipment or services to support doctors and patients during the coronavirus outbreak.
- Increasing Rural Health Care Funding: The FCC adopted an Order to fully fund all eligible Rural Health Care Program services for the current funding year with an additional $42.19 million. This action will help ensure that healthcare providers have the resources they need to promote telehealth solutions for patients during this outbreak. In addition, a June 30, 2020 Public Notice announced that up to $197.98 Million in unused funds from prior funding years would be available for Funding Year 2020.
- Grant Healthcare Waiver Requests: The FCC has granted waivers to GE Healthcare, to expedite medical equipment such as wearable patient monitors, diagnostic testing systems, and portable x-rays from new suppliers during the pandemic, and to MIT to permit certification and marketing of the WiTrack system for remote patient monitoring.
Support for Telehealth
Ensuring that rural health care providers have access to broadband and telephone service at rates comparable to those paid by urban providers is a core mission of the FCC. The agency is also looking for new ways to boost telehealth efforts and maintains a dedicated team focused exclusively on connectivity and health care.
- Rural Health Care Program: The current funding cap for funding year 2022 is $637,721,108. The internal cap for upfront payments and multi-year commitments in the Healthcare Connect Fund program is $161,022,761. These new funding caps represent a 4.2% inflation-adjusted increase to the RHC program funding cap and the internal cap for the Healthcare Connect Fund program’s multi-year commitments and upfront payments from funding year 2021. On January 26, 2023 the FCC approved a number of proposals for the Rural Health Care Program to make it easier for health care providers to receive support, reduce delays in funding commitments, and improve the overall efficiency of the program. This included restoring the prior rate determination rules and eliminating rules requiring the Rates Database for the Telecom Program, streamlining the invoice process for the Telecom Program and limiting the applicability of the internal cap.
- Connected Care Pilot Program: The FCC's Connected Care Pilot Program will study how connected care could be a permanent part of the Universal Service Fund by making available up to $100 million of universal service support over three years to help defray eligible health care providers’ costs of providing telehealth services to patients at their homes or mobile locations, with an emphasis on providing those services to low-income Americans and veterans. On June 17, 2021, the FCC approved guidance for this program that allows the 3-year projects to begin.
- Connect2HealthFCC Task Force: The Connect2HealthFCC Task Force is exploring the intersection of broadband, advanced technology and health, engaging with a wide array of stakeholders, and further charting the broadband future of health care—serving as an umbrella for all FCC health-oriented activities to help enable a healthier America. Among its projects, the Task Force has led the Commission's work on Mapping Broadband Health in America, a first-of-its-kind platform allowing users to interactively visualize, overlay and analyze broadband and health data at the national, state, and county levels, and enabling detailed study of the intersection between connectivity and health.
- Wireless Medical Telemetry: Monitoring patients at a distance relies on wireless technology. The FCC, in its role of ensuring the best use of America’s wireless airwaves, ensures that these vital health services have access to the spectrum needed to avoid interference. This protects the operations of life-saving devices like those that measure patients' vital signs or transport the data via a radio link to another location within a health care facility, like a nurses' station equipped with a specialized radio receiver.
- Enforcement: The FCC proposed an $18.7 million fine for apparent violations of the FCC's competitive bidding rules for the Rural Health Care Program and for using forged, false, misleading, and unsubstantiated documents to improperly seek funding from the Universal Service Fund.
Engagement & Partnerships
The FCC is actively engaging with the broader health care community, including providers, innovators, researchers, patients and caregivers, to find ways to help connect more Americans to life-saving services.
- Remote Health Care: Chairwoman Rosenworcel has visited, both in-person and virtually, health facilities serving at-risk populations and children, including Whitman-Walker Health, Children's National Hospital, and the University of Virginia Center for Telehealth.
- Rural Telehealth Initiative: In August 2020, the FCC, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Department of Agriculture signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together on the Rural Telehealth Initiative, a joint effort to collaborate and share information to address health disparities, resolve service provider challenges, and promote broadband services and technology to rural areas in America. As part of this MOU, the agencies intend to establish an interagency Rural Telehealth Initiative Task Force comprised of representatives from each agency. This Task Force will regularly meet to consider future recommendations or guidelines for this effort and exchange agency expertise, scientific and technical information, data, and publications.
- Broadband and Cancer Collaboration for Appalachia – Led by its Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, the FCC is also working with the National Cancer Institute, University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center, and other stakeholders to study how increased connectivity in Appalachia can help address the burden of symptom management for cancer patients in rural and underserved areas.
January 26, 2023 - News Release
FCC Improving Support for Digital Health in Rural America
March 16, 2022 - Public Notice
FCC Announces Final Group of Connected Care Pilot Program Projects
March 11, 2022 - Public Notice
FCC Sets July 31, 2022 Purchase Deadline for C-19 Telehealth Program
February 18, 2022 - News Release
FCC Seeks Comment on Further Reforms to Rural Health Care Program
January 26, 2022 - News Release
FCC Announces Final Group of COVID-19 Telehealth Program Awards
December 21, 2021 - News Release
FCC Awards Additional $42.7 Million for COVID-19 Telehealth Round 2
November 9, 2021 - News Release
FCC Reaches $150 Million Benchmark For Covid-19 Telehealth Program Round 2
October 26, 2021 - News Release
FCC Announces 36 Newly Approved Connected Care Pilot Program Projects
October 21, 2021 - News Release
FCC Announces Third Set of Awards for COVID-19 Telehealth Round 2
September 29, 2021 - News Release
FCC Announces Second Set of Awards for COVID-19 Telehealth Round 2
August 26, 2021 - News Release
FCC Announces Awards for Round 2 of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program
June 17, 2021 - News Release
FCC Offers Connected Care Pilot Program Guidance and Announces 36 Newly Approved Projects
April 29, 2021 - News Release
FCC Now Accepting Applications for Round 2 of COVID-19 Telehealth Program
April 15, 2021 - News Release
FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program Application Portal To Open April 29
March 29, 2021 - Report and Order
FCC Moves Forward with Round 2 of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program
March 17, 2021 - News Release
Rosenworcel Circulates Round 2 COVID-19 Telehealth Program R&O
February 3, 2021 - News Release
Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel Highlights Telehealth for Pediatrics
February 2, 2021 - Report and Order
FCC Readies for the Next Round of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program
February 2, 2021 - News Release
Rosenworcel Meets with University of Virginia to Discuss Telehealth
January 29, 2021 - News Release
Rosenworcel Promotes Telehealth During Visit to Whitman-Walker Health