AHA urges sufficient funding for telehealth pilot program

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The American Hospital Association is asking the Federal Communications Commission to provide sufficient funding for a telehealth pilot program.

In a comment letter, the trade group representing the nation’s hospitals is asking the agency to provide dollars to healthcare providers to manage pilot projects under its proposed Connect Care Program.

The AHA also wants the FCC to make it easier for providers to apply for grants and measure success. It also urged the commission to allow all providers—including for-profit providers and rural consortia—to participate in the program in areas of the country where it’s needed.

“The Connected Care Pilot Program is an important next step towards delivering affordable telehealth services to those Americans who need it the most,” says the AHA’s letter, which it released on Wednesday. “The AHA therefore urges the Commission to proceed to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in this proceeding.”

The comments were submitted in reply to initial comments on an FCC notice of inquiry regarding the proposed program.

The AHA letter notes that the FCC expects to set aside a total of $100 million for the pilot program, and that each telehealth pilot project could receive as much as $5 million in funding to support broadband connectivity to low-income patients and increased capabilities for providers, but contends that those amounts may not be sufficient to ensure success.

Healthcare providers “will have substantial obligations under the program, and (they) are less likely to participate if the Commission does not factor those obligations into the funding equation,” the AHA contends.

The agency also could encourage providers to participate by making sure the application process is simple, and by using “realistic and relevant metrics for measuring program success,” the letter recommends.

“The AHA believes that HCPs are more likely to participate if they are afforded the flexibility to design projects that meet community needs while remaining true to the larger goals of the program,” it adds.

The AHA also asks the FCC to broaden its definition of which patients are eligible to participate in the program.

“The definition of ‘eligible patient’ also should include individuals (including veterans) that satisfy their HCPs’ financial assistance policies, regardless of whether they participate in Medicaid,” the letter says. “Such individuals invariably are ‘low income’ and do not have ready access to telehealth services.”

Funding also should be available to support the use of a wide range of equipment for the projects. "Equipment (including end-user devices) should be eligible for funding, with the understanding that there is no 'one-size-fits-all' equipment solution for all HCPs," AHA said.

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