Healthcare groups including the American Hospital Association are urging the Federal Communications Commission to allow more providers to receive funding as part of a proposed $100 million pilot program to promote telemedicine services.
While the three-year Connected Care Pilot program is intended to address gaps in care, only not-for-profit or public healthcare providers are eligible to participate, according to the proposal released in July.
Groups like the AHA, the Federation of American Hospitals and the American Academy of Family Physicians pushed back on that provision. Including for-profit hospitals, which also serve low-income patients, would support the FCC's goals for the Connected Care Pilot, the AHA said.
"This is a pilot program, whose main purpose should be to gather data about programs that work," the group wrote in a letter to the FCC.
The Federation of American Hospitals also contended that its members—investor-owned hospitals—tend to serve older and low-income populations, who are arguably most in need of strengthened access to telemedicine services.
The FCC last year unveiled plans for the pilot program, proposing to allocate up to $100 million to support a limited number of telemedicine projects.
Unlike existing FCC healthcare programs, such as the agency's Rural Health Care Program, the proposed pilot would focus on projects that connect patients with healthcare services outside of a hospital.
Providers also voiced concerns over the best way to allocate the Connected Care Pilot's funding to selected participants.
As proposed, the Connected Care Pilot would limit its funds to help providers offset the cost of purchasing broadband services. But that's a mistake, according to providers that urged the FCC to fund other aspects of telemedicine projects, including the cost of end-user devices—such as smartphone apps and remote patient monitoring equipment—and administrative expenses.
"To advance health outcomes and access by remote connected care, the costs that are most problematic are not the broadband connection cost, but the cost of connected diagnostic devices and apps," Ochsner Health System wrote, suggesting the FCC consider ways to assist in funding these other components.
AdventHealth echoed a similar sentiment, noting "equipment, devices and applications needed to provide telehealth services encompass most of the cost of telehealth programs." The health system advised the FCC to look into partnering with local clinics and pharmacies to offer free community access to tablets and video portals, to support patients who might not have their own mobile devices.
In a joint letter, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and Association for Executives in Healthcare Information Technology advised the FCC to pay for end-user devices and apps, while considering a needs-based approach to reimbursing providers for administrative costs of standing up a pilot program.
"Previously, the FCC has not allowed reimbursement for administrative costs," the groups wrote. However, administrative costs could "represent a barrier to entry if it is not covered … If the intent of the pilot is to get more providers using connected care, removing this obstacle could help facilitate this."