Announcements from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy

February 14, 2018

What’s New

New Federal Poverty Guidelines. The HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) recently published the 2018 federal poverty guidelines to be used in determining eligibility in income-based federal programs, including several that may affect the health and welfare of rural communities such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Medicare subsidized prescription drug coverage.  The Guidelines went into effect on January 13, 2018.

Funding Opportunities

Grants to Support Health Insurance Markets in States – February 26. Through this grant program, CMS will provide funding to States for planning and implementing health insurance market reforms and consumer protections.  State Offices of Rural Health and other rural advocates may be interested in the recommended areas of focus for the grant, which include development of tools to identify discriminatory practices and investigation of ways to improve access to coverage in underserved areas.   Applications are due on Thursday, April 5th, but a mandatory letter of intent to apply is due on Monday, February 26th.

Tribal-Researcher Capacity Building Grants – April 23.  The U.S. Department of Justice will make up to five awards of approximately $100,000 each to build capacity for research and evaluation projects on criminal justice in Indian Country and Alaska Native Villages.  Award recipients will be expected to submit a final research project that can help inform criminal justice partnerships with Tribal communities in the future.

Policy Updates

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CMS Annual Call for Medicare EHR Incentive Program Measures  – June 29.   CMS is accepting proposals for new Medicare Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program measures that advance meaningful use of Certified EHR Technology (CEHRT).  Participating eligible hospitals and Critical Access Hospitals are encouraged to submit ideas for new measures that emphasize patient outcomes and patient safety as well as improved program efficiency.

Essential Community Providers for 2019.   CMS has posted the list of Essential Community Providers (ECPs) approved for the 2019 plan year for the Health Insurance Marketplace. ECPs are providers serving low-income, medically-underserved individuals and include Rural Health Clinics, Critical Access Hospitals, and Federally Qualified Health Centers.  Insurers offering Qualified Health Plans are required to contract with at least 20 percent of ECPs in medically underserved areas.  Insurers may “write in” providers not included on this list after the provider submits a petition for inclusion.

CMS Updates List of Alternative Payment Models (APMs). CMS recently published a list of all APMs the agency operates. Rural providers can review this document to learn more about which APMs qualify as Advanced APMs for the purposes of the Quality Payment Program (QPP). The table shows which APMs are medical home models and whether the APMs require certified EHR technology, quality measures comparable to those used in the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), and financial risk.

Resources, Learning Events and Technical Assistance

AgriSafe: Understanding Respiratory Hazards – Tuesday, February 20 at 1:00 pm ET.  The AgriSafe Network will hold this hour-long webinar to inform rural stakeholders about respiratory exposures and diseases that are common in the agricultural environment.  Find other resources for agricultural health and safety topics on the AgriSafe website.

Opioid Issues Among Older Adults in Rural Areas – Wednesday, February 21 at 2:30 pm ET.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will host this hour-long webinar on the issues facing health care systems due to the opioid epidemic and the aging populations in rural areas.

Public Listening Session on Clinician Burden – Thursday, February 22 at 10:00 am ET.  The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will hold a public listening session to hear from stakeholders about regulatory and administrative burdens related to the use of Electronic Health Records.  The event will run from 10:30 am – 4:30 pm ET at the HHS Headquarters in Washington, DC but attendees who join by phone will have an opportunity to provide input.  CMS has been working to reduce burden on providers, particularly in rural areas, with a “Patients Over Paper” focus that aims to streamline regulation.

Addressing Social Determinants of Health – Thursday, February 22 at 2:00 pm ET.  HRSA’s Bureau of Health Workforce will host this 90-minute webinar on achieving health equity for underserved population through social determinants of health.  This is the first of two webinars focusing on strategies for strategies and resources for behavioral health practitioners.  For topic guides, toolkits and best-practice models specific to rural communities, find social determinants of health on the Rural Health Information Hub.

Rural Health Clinics Technical Assistance – Thursday, February 22 at 2:00 pm ET.  This webinar will cover some of the most common billing topics for Rural Health Clinics (RHCs).  It will be conducted jointly by Shannon Chambers,  Director of Provider Solutions with the South Carolina Office of Rural Health and Janet Lytton, Director of Reimbursement with RHD, Inc.  The dial-in information as well as past RHC TA webinars can now be found on RHI Hub at  Please bookmark this site for future reference.

Approaching Deadlines

Addressing Violence Against Women in Rural Areas – February 15
Comments Requested: Electronic Clinical Quality Measures – Hospital Harm
– February 16
Environmental Problem-Solving for Underserved Communities – February 16
Comments Requested: HIT Trusted Exchange Framework Draft – February 20
Tribal Practices for Wellness in Indian Country – February 20
Comments Requested: Addressing Needs in Rural Schools – February 20
Campus Suicide Prevention – February 20
RWJF Change Leadership Programs – February 21 & March 14
SAMSHA Treatment Drug Courts – February 21
Rural Health Network Development Planning Program – February 23
Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program EvaluationFebruary 23
Grants to Support Health Insurance Market in States – February 26
Comments Requested: Quality Measures – Hospital-Wide Mortality – February 27
Nurse Anesthetist Traineeship Program – February 28
Rural PREP Microresearch – March 1 (depending on funds)
Comments Requested: Medicare Advantage/Prescription Drug Plan Updates – March 5
Comments Requested:  Labor Redefines Employer Health Plans – March 6
NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program – March 8
New Medicare Episode Payment Model – March 12
Rural Health Clinic Policy and Assessment Program – March 16
Comments Requested: FDA Opioid Prescribing Guidelines – March 16
Indian Health Service Scholarship Program – March 28
Submit 2017 Performance Data for Medicare Quality Payment Program – March 31
Guaranteed Loans for Rural Rental Housing – Ongoing through 2021
Drinking Water and Waste Disposal for Rural and Native Alaskan Villages – Ongoing
HIT Strategies for Patient-Reported Outcome Measures – Ongoing
HIT to Improve Health Care Quality and Outcomes – Ongoing
Community Facilities Program –  Ongoing
Summer Food Service Program – Ongoing