House Energy and Commerce Democratic leaders want the FCC to be more open about the telehealth grants the agency is funding through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which Congress created in the CARES Act. Under the Act, Congress appropriated $200 million to the FCC to address the coronavirus “by providing telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to enable the provision of telehealth services.”
As of June 10, the FCC said it’s awarded more than $104 million of the total $200 million in appropriated funds through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Many details of these awards, including entities that have applied but have not been approved to receive funding, are known only to the Commission, according to the lawmakers. Given reports indicating “that close to half of all doctors are using telehealth services” to treat patients during the pandemic, Pallone and Doyle believe Congressional oversight of the funding awards is critical.
“While the FCC has posted weekly updates of funding awards, we are troubled by the lack of transparency regarding the health care providers who have applied but have not yet received an award,” Pallone and Doyle wrote in a letter to all five FCC Commissioners. “We have heard reports that many health care providers are facing issues obtaining funds, particularly those serving tribal lands. Similarly, health care providers report they have been unable to receive funding for some important telehealth equipment that we believe should be covered under the law.”
Pallone and Doyle asked the agency to provide more transparency into its decisions and take the following actions by June 19. They urge the Commission to update the information weekly:
- On the FCC’s public facing website, publish a docket that includes all the applications the Commission has received for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program;
- Include information regarding applications that have been approved;
- For approved applications, include information regarding the date on which funds were actually dispersed; and
- For approved applications, include a summary of any uses or devices that were not approved for reimbursement.
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