Breaking News: Second Round of COVID-19 Telehealth Funding Announced. Filing Window is April 29th to May 6th.
As the pandemic continues to pummel the healthcare system, hope is on the horizon in the form of a second round of funding from the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The window to apply for that funding has just been announced. Applications are being accepted between April 29th to May 6.
It’s no secret that the first round of funding in the COVID-19 Telehealth Program was beyond chaotic. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) might have done the best they could with the limited time they had to allocate funds in round one, but an HCP wouldn’t be blamed for maintaining negative feelings against that system, especially if they never received funding before the $200 million ran out.
Chrystal Matthews, CEO of Elite Program Specialists and expert in helping HCPs acquire maximum funding, has some good news. She was an outspoken proponent for the restructured systems in round two, and her firm was even cited multiple times by USAC in its initial information on round two funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. She notes that USAC understands how flawed the first round was, and has restructured round two from the ground up to run smoother and to distribute funds in a more calculated, data-driven manner.
Here are a few things to keep in mind about the
COVID-19 Telehealth Program’s second round of funding.
Who is eligible?
As with round one allocations, public and non-profit healthcare providers, particularly in rural or underserved areas, will be the main recipients of funding. There is, however, a shift in policy when it comes to certain urban HCPs that meet the FCC’s requirements to receive funding.
Under normal circumstances, urban institutions would only be able to acquire Rural Healthcare Program (RHC) funding by being a member of a consortium, but this time USAC is allowing these urban HCPs to apply for funding as singular entities. Chrystal states that “these urban HCPs still need to meet the FCC’s criteria for being non-profit, or a public entity, or one of the entity types that are allowed for eligibility.”
Urban HCPs have a second consideration to make their lives easier for round two funding. In round one, urban HCPs needed to file an FCC Form 460 (eligibility) for each of their individual locations (clinics, labs, etc.). In round two, a lead entity (a health system or a main hospital) can submit one application request that takes requests for all of their smaller pieces into account and only has to file an FCC Form 460 for the lead entity. This is a huge change for these larger HCPs and should make the process much less taxing.
The available funds per applicant have also been decided for round two. In round one, an applicant could have a maximum of $1 million allocated to them. The FCC considered keeping this cap as a continuous cap moving forward (i.e. a hospital that was awarded $500,000 in round one, could receive a max of $500,000 in round two, totaling $1 million), but the FCC ruled that for round two, this counter is reset. An entity that received $1 million the first time, can receive a second million in round two.
What is eligible?
The eligible services and equipment for round two haven’t changed drastically from round one.
The COVID-19 Telehealth Program will cover twelve months’ worth of expenses if they are eligible, and these expenses can be dated back to any date on or after March 13, 2020.
Some services and equipment that are eligible include connectivity services between the HCP and patient, store and forward services, patient-reported outcome platforms, and telemedicine kiosks/carts. The network equipment to manage all of this, as well as the installation and integration costs, are also eligible for funding.
Devices for the HCP and patient, like tablets, smartphones, and medical devices (at-home blood pressure monitors, Bluetooth synched heart monitors, etc.) that allow connectivity between the patient and the HCP through broadband, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth connectivity are also covered. The key is connectivity.
“The determining factor for eligibility is that it is a connected device, or that it uses connectivity to transfer information in real-time,” says Chrystal, “so if a patient was storing information at home, like recording their blood pressure at home with a monitoring device, and brought that information or device to the doctor at a later time, that device or service would not be considered a covered expense.” The platform or device has to use connectivity as its core function for USAC to consider it for funding.
The filing process
There are a few key things to know about round two’s filing process. Round two has a very small filing window of only seven days, between April 29th and May 6. Bear in mind that an HCP that turns in its application on day one won’t have any advantage of getting funds over an HCP that turns its application in on day seven; only the requests and reasoning matter this time around.
HCPs should begin to gather any and all supporting documentation now to build a strong case for their need of whatever funds they apply for. This includes HCPs that filed for round one funding but never received funds; these HCPs will need to submit new, updated documentation as if they were applying for the first time.
USAC will conduct a second review to confirm the eligibility of fund usage if the HCP is awarded funds for one thing, but uses them for something else that they deemed to be more necessary. “This allowance is due to USAC understanding that the pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty in accessing resources to deploy Telehealth solutions,” Chrystal explained. She states that this is very different from USAC’s usual rigidness, but the strain and constant shifting in the healthcare landscape right now has earned some needed leeway in that regard.
Chrystal also wants all HCPs to know that USAC will not deny an entire application due to ineligible expenses on their application forms. That worry might keep some HCPs from putting certain expenses in their applications for fear of ruining their other requests, but USAC will remove these ineligible expenses and still award funds for eligible ones. There is no need to stress over that aspect of applying.
Just how will it all go down?
The process USAC is using to judge this second round of funding is by far the biggest change to the COVID-19 Telehealth Program’s fund disbursement. Rather than a vague system of relying on the applicants to describe their reasons for funding requests, USAC has created an evaluation process that assigns a point value to certain criteria of an HCP. For example, a hospital can receive up to fifteen points if it is located in an area considered to be one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, or five points for being a rural HCP. The points system is backed up by all of the metrics and data that have been gathered up to this point, and will allow USAC to decide if an HCP deserves funds or not in a much clearer manner compared to round one.
The actual disbursement of funds is broken up into two Phases.
Phase One will begin with step one; focusing on the areas that were not issued awards at all in round one. HCPs in Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands fall into this category. This is to ensure these overlooked locations are guaranteed to get funding in round two.
Next is Step Two of Phase One: the highest scoring applicants from US territories that were issued awards in round one will be given funds. Step Three of Phase One returns its attention to the second highest-ranking HCPs in the territories that did not get round one funds.
These three steps seem convoluted, but they ensure that oversights in the first round are corrected as best as USAC can manage, while also seeing everyone has two initial waves of possible funding.
After Phase One is completed, USAC will give any applicants that were denied funds for whatever reason, ten days to correct these errors. Then, Phase Two will begin. Phase Two is much simpler than Phase One and consists of USAC dealing out funds based on their point system until the funds are spent.
“The awards process for round one was less clear and concise, and the evaluation process was less clear and concise,” Chrystal states, “Many applicants who were not awarded funding in round one felt that they were not fairly prioritized.” With these phases in place, applicants will need to meet strict requirements to earn funding, but at least they can see the data that these requirements are based on, and the seven-day window will ensure no HCP is penalized for taking its time in getting its records in order.
All in all, this second round of funding through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program is far more “fair” compared to round one. The FCC did not intentionally try to undercut or ignore any applicants, but it is clear that the haphazard nature of the round one distribution let a lot of HCPs slip through the cracks.
But Chrystal does warn that this doesn’t necessarily mean that round two is an easy way to get funds. The clarity in the parameters here also means there is no arguing your case. You either receive funds for a given claim, or you don’t.
If all of those steps and phases seem confusing, or if the chaos of round one left any HCPs feeling exhausted and disillusioned, then it would definitely be worth seeking out Chrystal Matthews’ advice on this subject. There’s no other firm with more knowledge on the topic than Elite Program Specialists.
Don’t do it yourself! Set up a free consultation to meet with Chrystal and Aesto Health to ensure that your COVID-19 Telehealth Program round two applications go as smoothly as possible. SCHEDULE TIME WITH AESTO HEALTH AND CHRYSTAL MATTHEWS.