Lawmakers ask FCC chair to explain slow payout of COVID-19 telehealth funds

Despite approving more than $50 million in telehealth funding through its COVID-19 relief program, the Federal Communications Commission had sent funds to only one provider as of May 19, according to Politico's May 20 Morning eHealth newsletter.

FCC chair Ajit Pai told a House Energy and Commerce Committee Panel on May 19 that the agency was working through most of the 89 applications it received to ensure funding is used exclusively for telehealth expenses. Since that meeting, the FCC has approved an additional 43 applications for the COVID-19 telehealth program, increasing the number of approved healthcare providers to 132.

During the May 19 panel, Mr. Pai told the subcommittee that the FCC had received only one certified invoice from a program participant, according to Politico.

In an emailed statement to Becker's Hospital Review on May 20, an FCC spokesperson said the agency expects to see a steady increase in invoices as it continues to approve funding for more providers, adding that the number of invoices has increased since Mr. Pai's remarks yesterday.

"As we continue to approve funding for healthcare providers and approved applicants purchase services and devices, we expect to see a steady increase in invoices from those hospitals and other providers. Indeed, in the last day, we have already seen an increase."

The FCC spokesperson did not specify the exact number of certified invoices it has received from program participants.

"We're processing applications as quickly as we can, while still doing the necessary due diligence to protect against any possible waste, fraud and abuse," Mr. Pai said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Because this is a new program with new applications, our staff has spent considerable time working with applicants [to verify eligibility]."

The FCC launched the $200 million program in April and approved its first set of applicants April 16. Under the program, which is part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, hospitals and health centers can apply for up to $1 million to cover costs for internet-connected monitoring devices, broadband connectivity and telecommunication devices. 

More articles on telehealth:
USDA invests $71M in broadband for rural areas
UPMC telemedicine company combines with Merck: 4 things to know
Telehealth to grow nearly 65% in 2020, report finds

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