Webinar: Medication Safety for Seniors

Help Keep Seniors Safe! MedsMatter! Conversation Series

Date: June 24, 2021

Time: 11:30 AM – 12:00 PM CT


Safe medication use and disposal is more important now than ever. Join us this Thursday for a conversation to become familiar with various safe medication and opioid use resources to share with seniors in your community. Identify how to help seniors take steps to keep their medications safe, to discuss medications with their physicians and pharmacists and to prepare for their next medical visits.




Together for Quality Newsletter

June 2021

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Provider Spotlight

Risk Assessments Upon Admission, Follow-up Calls After Discharge and Education Decreases Readmission Rates for Small Hospital

Adding new processes and tools to patient rounds allowed Southeast Health Center of Stoddard County, a 48-bed (15 in-patient) hospital in Missouri, to reduce its readmission rate by just over 2% in a few months in 2020. After reviewing its data, hospital leadership determined they needed to focus on patient readmissions associated with congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Click HERE to read the steps that Southeast Health Center of Stoddard County took to reduce its readmission rate.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcement

June 17, 2021

Customizable COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Toolkit for Rural Communities. This toolkit from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy- (FORHP) supported National Rural Health Resource Center helps rural community- and faith-based organizations, businesses, public health, schools, and health care organizations with internal and external COVID-19 vaccine communication materials. Organizations have easy access to customizable communication templates that include print ads, poster, brochure, social media posts, and an online resource guide.

HHS Awards $125 Million in Workforce Grants for Vaccination Efforts. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) awarded the first of two rounds of funding to bring health and social service workers to underserved communities. The funding will help community-based organizations hire and mobilize outreach workers, community health workers, social support specialists and others to help increase public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. 

New Study: Gap in Rural-Urban Death Rates Tripled Over Last 20 Years. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital used publicly available data for the years 1999 to 2019 and found an overall increase of more than 12 percent in age-adjusted mortality rates (AAMR) for rural residents aged 25 to 64 years. While death rates fell among Black individuals, this group had greater AAMRs than all other racial/ethnic groups across both rural and urban environments. The study, published last week in JAMA, was conducted before the outbreak of COVID-19; authors note the pandemic may have since exacerbated the rural-urban divide they observed.

SAMHSA Guide to Telehealth for the Treatment of Serious Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorder. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sought input from federal, state, and non-governmental experts for this guide to best practices.

New Reporting Requirements and Timeline for Provider Relief Fund (PRF). The Health Resources and Services Administration released revised reporting requirements for recipients of PRF funding. These revisions mean more flexibility for providers, and include expanding the amount of time providers will have to report information, reducing burdens for smaller providers, and extending key deadlines for spending PRF payments for those providers who received payments after June 30, 2020. The revised reporting requirements are applicable to providers who received one or more payments exceeding, in the aggregate, $10,000 during a single Payment Received Period. Providers are encouraged to register in the Reporting Portal before it opens with full reporting functionality on July 1. Learn more about the PRF reporting requirements.

AHRQ Social Determinants of Health Database. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) curated data from publicly available sources linked to county and zip code. The five key SDOH variables are social context (e.g., age, race/ethnicity, veteran status), economic context (e.g., income, unemployment rate), education, physical infrastructure (e.g, housing, crime, transportation), and healthcare context (e.g., health insurance).

AAMC Reports on Physician Supply and Demand. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects the future supply of active physicians, including projected demand for primary care or non-primary care specialties by urban or rural location. 

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

June 11, 2021

Rural Health Clinics Receive Support for COVID-19 Testing and Mitigation. Yesterday, the Health Resources and Services Administration provided more than $424 million to increase COVID-19 testing and mitigation in rural areas. Each immediately eligible Rural Health Clinic (RHC) received $100,000 in funding. This new effort builds on the May 2020 RHC COVID-19 Testing Program, helping more than 4200 RHCs slow the virus in ways tailored to their communities. Read more about support for Rural Health Clinics during the public health emergency under COVID-19 Resources.

An Overview of the National Cancer Institute’s Rural Cancer Control Initiatives – Tuesday, June 15 at 1:00 pm ET.  This webinar hosted by the Rural Health Information Hub will provide an overview of the National Cancer Institute’s research emphasis on rural cancer control. Presenters will highlight agendas and resources related to geographical disparities affecting rural and tribal populations, persistent poverty, and telehealth. Opportunities for collaboration with other rural health partners, including health centers, will also be discussed.

FORHP Enhances Vaccine Activities in Delta Region.  On June 8th, the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy announced $550,000 in supplemental funding to Delta States Rural Development Network Grant Program recipients to enhance COVID-19 vaccine activities such as outreach, education and promotion, and operations to provide accurate evidence-based vaccination information and increase vaccination rates across the Delta region.  This supplemental funding supports the Administration’s priorities in addressing the COVID-19 crisis as noted in the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness and addresses the disproportionate disparities of individuals experiencing a burden of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

CMS Announces Payment for In-Home Vaccinations.  The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced an additional payment amount for administering in-home COVID-19 vaccinations to Medicare beneficiaries who have difficulty leaving their homes or are otherwise hard-to-reach.  The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimates approximately 1.6 million adults aged 65 or older who may have trouble accessing vaccinations because they have difficulty leaving home.  

USDA on Food Retail in Rural Areas.  The Economic Research Service (ERS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report that examines food retailers – grocery stores, convenience stores, dollar stores, and other types – known to be a social determinant of health.  Researchers found that, in 2015, there were 40 rural counties without grocery stores, and 23 rural counties without any food retailers.  The ERS also updated their county-level data sets that track socioeconomic indicators including poverty rates, population change, and unemployment rates. 

New: Expanded Resources for Rural Health Clinics.  Three new programs help more than 4,200 Rural Health Clinics in 45 states meet the needs of their communities.

New: HHS/DoD National Emergency Tele-Critical Care Network.  A joint program of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is available at no cost to hospitals caring for COVID-19 patients and struggling with access to enough critical care physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and other specialized clinical experts. Teams of critical care clinicians are available to deliver virtual care through lightweight telemedicine platforms, such as an app on a mobile device. Hear from participating clinicians and email to learn more and sign up.

Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Loan Repayment Program (STAR LRP)

Eligible providers can receive up to $250K in loan repayment

Accepting applications now until July 22, 7:30 PM ET.

Are you a potential applicant?

Every day you’re using skills to help end substance use disorders (SUD) within your community. Pay off your school loans with up to $250,000 from the STAR LRP  in exchange for six years of full-time service at an approved facility. Behavioral health clinicians, paraprofessionals, clinical support staff and many others trained in substance use disorder treatment are encouraged to apply.

Are you a potential facility?

Recruit and retain behavioral health professionals to work at your facility through the STAR LRP. A wide range of facilities are eligible. Find out if you are a STAR LRP-approved facility

Want More Information?

Biden Administration Continues Efforts to Increase Vaccinations by Bolstering Payments for At-Home COVID-19 Vaccinations for Medicare Beneficiaries

June 9, 2021

As part of President Biden’s commitment to increasing access to vaccinations, CMS announced an additional payment amount for administering in-home COVID-19 vaccinations to Medicare beneficiaries who have difficulty leaving their homes or are otherwise hard-to-reach. This announcement further demonstrates continued efforts of the Biden-Harris Administration to meet people where they are and make it as easy as possible for all Americans to get vaccinated. There are approximately 1.6 million adults 65 or older who may have trouble accessing COVID-19 vaccinations because they have difficulty leaving home.

While many Medicare beneficiaries can receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a retail pharmacy, their physician’s office, or a mass vaccination site, some beneficiaries have great difficulty leaving their homes or face a taxing effort getting around their communities easily to access vaccination in these settings. To better serve this group, Medicare is incentivizing providers and will pay an additional $35 per dose for COVID-19 vaccine administration in a beneficiary’s home, increasing the total payment amount for at-home vaccination from approximately $40 to approximately $75 per vaccine dose. For a two-dose vaccine, this results in a total payment of approximately $150 for the administration of both doses, or approximately $70 more than the current rate.

“CMS is committed to meeting the unique needs of Medicare consumers and their communities – particularly those who are home bound or who have trouble getting to a vaccination site. That’s why we’re acting today to expand the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine to people with Medicare at home,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-Lasure. “We’re committed to taking action wherever barriers exist and bringing the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic to the door of older adults and other individuals covered by Medicare who still need protection.”

Delivering COVID-19 vaccination to access-challenged and hard-to-reach individuals poses some unique challenges, such as ensuring appropriate vaccine storage temperatures, handling, and administration. The CDC has outlined guidance to assist vaccinators in overcoming these challenges. This announcement now helps to address the financial burden associated with accommodating these complications.

The additional payment amount also accounts for the clinical time needed to monitor a beneficiary after the vaccine is administered, as well as the upfront costs associated with administering the vaccine safely and appropriately in a beneficiary’s home. The payment rate for administering each dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the additional in-home payment amount, will be geographically adjusted based on where the service is furnished.

How to Find a COVID-19 Vaccine:

As this action demonstrates, a person’s ability to leave their home should not be an obstacle to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. As states and the federal government continue to break down barriers – like where vaccines can be administered – resources for connecting communities to vaccination options remain key. Unvaccinated individuals and those looking to assist friends and family can:

  1. Visit vaccines.gov (English) or vacunas.gov (Spanish) to search for vaccines nearby
  2. Text GETVAX (438829) for English or VACUNA (822862) for Spanish for near-instant access to details on three vaccine sites in the local area
  3. Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline at 1-800-232-0233 (TTY: 1-888-720-7489) for assistance in English and Spanish

Coverage of COVID-19 Vaccines:

The federal government is providing the COVID-19 vaccine free of charge or with no cost-sharing for all people living in the United States. As a condition of receiving free COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government, vaccine providers cannot charge patients any amount for administering the vaccine.

Because no patient can be billed for COVID-19 vaccinations, CMS and its partners have provided a variety of information online for providers vaccinating all Americans regardless of their insurance status:

  • Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage:Beneficiaries with Medicare pay nothing for COVID-19 vaccines or their administration, and there is no applicable copayment, coinsurance or deductible.
  • Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP):State Medicaid and CHIP agencies must cover COVID-19 vaccine administration with no cost sharing for nearly all beneficiaries during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) and for over a year after it ends. For the very limited number of Medicaid beneficiaries who are not eligible for this coverage (and do not receive it through other coverage they might have), providers may submit claims for reimbursement for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to underinsured individuals through the COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund, administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), as discussed below. Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP), signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, the federal matching percentage for state Medicaid and CHIP expenditures on COVID-19 vaccine administration is currently 100% (as of April 1, 2021), and will remain 100% for more than a year after the COVID-19 PHE ends. The ARP also expands coverage of COVID-19 vaccine administration under Medicaid and CHIP to additional eligibility groups. CMS recently updated the Medicaid vaccine toolkit to reflect the enactment of the ARP at https://www.medicaid.gov/state-resource-center/downloads/covid-19-vaccine-toolkit.pdf.
  • Private Plans: The vaccine is free for people enrolled in private health plans and issuers COVID-19 vaccine and its administration is covered without cost sharing for most enrollees, and such coverage must be provided both in-network and out-of-network during the PHE. Current regulations provide that out-of-network rates must be reasonable as compared to prevailing market rates, and the rules reference using the Medicare payment rates as a potential guideline for insurance companies. In light of CMS’s increased Medicare payment rates, CMS will expect health insurance issuers and group health plans to continue to ensure their rates are reasonable when compared to prevailing market rates. Under the conditions of participation in the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program, providers cannot charge plan enrollees any administration fee or cost sharing, regardless of whether the COVID-19 vaccine is administered in-network or out-of-network.

The Biden-Harris Administration is providing free access to COVID-19 vaccines for every adult living in the United States. For individuals who are underinsured, providers may submit claims for reimbursement for administering the COVID-19 vaccine through the COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund administered by HRSA after the claim to the individual’s health plan for payment has been denied or only partially paid. Information is available at https://www.hrsa.gov/covid19-coverage-assistance.

For individuals who are uninsured, providers may submit claims for reimbursement for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to individuals without insurance through the Provider Relief Fund, administered by HRSA. Information on the COVID-19 Claims Reimbursement to Health Care Providers and Facilities for Testing, Treatment, and Vaccine Administration for the Uninsured Program is available at https://www.hrsa.gov/CovidUninsuredClaim.

More information on Medicare payment for COVID-19 vaccine administration – including a list of billing codes, payment allowances and effective dates – is available at https://www.cms.gov/medicare/covid-19/medicare-covid-19-vaccine-shot-payment.

More information regarding the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program Provider Requirements and how the COVID-19 vaccine is provided through that program at no cost to recipients is available at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/vaccination-provider-support.html.