O'Rielly Slams Telehealth Pilot Item as Fiscally Reckless

The FCC voted Wednesday (April 1) to start spending $200 million on telehealth per the direction of Congress in the CARES Act COVID-19 aid bill, but for at least one of the commissioners it was too quick for the second part of the proposal, a $100 million telehealth pilot project that has been cooking for some time and was also approved as part of the two-item, telehealth, package. 

FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly

FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly

While it was a bipartisan vote, Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly dissented strongly from the majority on the pilot project item, using terms like fiscally reckless, obfuscate, and exhibiting a lack of rigor "beneath the Commission's standards." 

O'Rielly had asked that the two program frameworks--the COVID-19 Telehealth Program and Connected Care Program--be separated into two items so he could vote quickly on the first while taking more time to study the second, but said in his lengthy statement that his request did not carry the day for "specious reasons" and that it was being spun as targeting the awful pandemic when the money could not be distributed anytime soon based on the item timelines. 

FCC officials did tell reporters on background this week that the pilot Connected Care Program would be targeted at opioid abuse, mental health and chronic diseases like diabetes, rather than COVID-19. 

But O'Rielly was not done. He said that item was on shaky legal footing and was the equivalent to a government-run beauty contest without any objective criteria. 

He slammed its "neither here nor there" funding source and said it would "blatantly violate the federal anti-kickback statute.  

He said his vote was hurried, with no chance to offer edits or even digest the item, calling it "not a prudent or effective policymaking process."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.