Announcements from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy

March 8, 2018

What’s New

Interoperability, Patient Choice at HIMSS.  On Tuesday, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma announced a new initiative, MyHealthEData, “to empower patients by giving them control of their healthcare data, and allowing it to follow them through their healthcare journey.” Speaking to attendees at the annual conference of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) in Las Vegas, Verma said that CMS plans to overhaul requirements for the agency’s meaningful use program and MACRA’s Quality Payment Program to increase the focus on interoperability and reduce barriers to compliance – both areas presenting a challenge to rural providers.  The HIMSS Conference runs through the end of the week.  Those in attendance can find our FORHP colleagues at HRSA Booth #10219 in the Federal Health IT Pavilion.

Updated Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America.  The rural atlas, maintained and updated by the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides statistics on three broad categories of socioeconomic factors:  demographics, including migration and immigration, education, and characteristics of veteran population;  jobs, with employment trends, industrial composition and household income; and county classifications that include the rural-urban continuum, economic dependence, persistent poverty and other characteristics.

Funding Opportunities

Tribal Health – Enhancement for Cancer Screening – March 30.  Three tribal clinics will receive funding from the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) for a pilot program that tests outreach for cancer screening designed specifically to reach American Indian/Alaska Native populations, many of whom live in rural areas.  The toolkit to be used in the testing will focus on breast and cervical cancer screenings and is expected to run from May 1 to July 31, 2018.

National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program – April 23.  Primary care medical, dental and mental and behavioral health clinicians can receive up to $50,000 to repay their health profession student loans in exchange for a two-year commitment to work at one of more than 5,000 NHSC-approved sites that include Rural Health Clinics, Critical Access Hospitals, and Federally Qualified Health Centers in rural and frontier areas.  Currently, 1 in 4 NHSC clinicians serves in a rural community.

Funding to Improve Quality Payment Program Measures  – May 2.  The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will provide up to $30 million for 3 years through cooperative agreements to develop and improve quality measures for the Quality Payment Program.  This is an opportunity for rural providers and health systems engaged in quality measure development and reporting to work with CMS.  What’s learned in this project will allow CMS to better understand how rural clinicians and patients are impacted by payment policy and find more effective ways to measure and improve performance. CMS will host information calls about this funding opportunity on March 15 and March 27.   More information is available online.

NHSC State Loan Repayment Program – May 7.  The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) provides funding to states and territories to assist them in operating their own state loan repayment programs (SLRP) for primary care providers working in Health Professional Shortage Areas.  Each of the 50 states and US Territories is eligible to apply and the NHSC experience may encourage clinicians to stay and practice in rural areas.

Policy Updates

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Request for Information Regarding Patient-Reported Outcome Measures – April 1.  The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is seeking information from the public to inform work on patient-reported outcomes (PROs).  Specifically, AHRQ is interested in information that will help in the development of user-friendly tools that will collect data from patients about their physical function.  These data will be used in electronic health records and other health information technology products.  AHRQ will be formulating measures that are most useful to clinical management and quality improvement and a rural perspective may provide benefit in this endeavor.

Nominations for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) – May 15.  The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is seeking nominees for the USPSTF, an independent body of experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine. The recommendations made by the USPSTF address clinical preventive services for adults and children, and include screening tests, counseling services, and preventive medications.  A rural perspective from clinicians would broaden the expertise of the task force and the scope of its recommendations.  Experts in rural health research would also add value to USPSTF work, providing critical evaluation of research and methods of evidence review through a rural lens.

VA Revises Policy for Emergency Treatment Payment.  The Veterans Administration (VA) revised its regulations concerning payment or reimbursement for emergency treatment for non-service connected conditions at non-VA facilities.  As such, the VA will begin processing claims for reimbursement for reasonable costs that were only partially paid by the Veteran’s other health insurance.  Those costs may include hospital charges, professional fees and emergency transportation such as ambulances.  For more details, refer to the fact sheet for VA payment for emergency treatment.  According to the VA’s Office of Rural Health, a quarter of all U.S. veterans – about 5.2 million – live in rural communities.

VA Launches Online Resource for Community Care Providers. The Veterans Health Administration has launched a new web resource for community care providers as it works to improve the timeliness of payments and customer service. The website features a reference library with fact sheets, forms, training videos and other provider resources such as contact information for the VHA Office of Community Care and other Department of Veterans Affairs divisions. It also offers resources for providers seeking prompt payment of their claims, including a new Vendor Inquiry System that lets providers check their claim status online.

Resources, Learning Events and Technical Assistance

Coverage to Care: Roadmap to Behavioral Health – Thursday, March 8 at 1:00 pm ET.  The CMS Office of Minority Health (OMH) in collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will host a partner webinar to provide information on the resource, From Coverage to Care, a guide for consumers to help individuals gain access to behavioral health care.  According to SAMSHA data from 2016, more than 18% of residents in non-metropolitan counties had some sort of mental illness in the previous year, which amounts to more than 6 million people.

Integrating HIV and Substance Use Disorder Treatment – Wednesday, March 21 at 2:00 pm ET.  The SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions will host this 90-minute webinar to discuss practical, evidence-based interventions for treating patients with substance use disorders while also treating their HIV.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been tracking the geography of HIV and found that recently, many new diagnoses are found in suburban and rural areas.  The CDC website has more information on injection drug use and HIV.

Advisory Committee: Modernizing Rural Health Clinic Act Provisions – Thursday, March 22 at 2:00 pm ET.  A significant portion of the rural health care infrastructure is made up of more than 4,100 Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) in 44 states.  In this one-hour webinar, members of the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services will discuss their recommendations to enhance the RHCs.

Social Determinants for Behavioral Health – Thursday, March 22 at 2:00 pm ET.  HRSA’s Bureau of Health Workforce will hold part two of its Behavioral Health Equity Town Hall Webinar Series.  During the 90-minute session, behavioral health practitioners will learn about strategies and resources for reducing behavioral health disparities. Read more about social determinants of health for rural areas at the RHIhub.

Approaching Deadlines

AHRQ Seeks Input on Quality Indicators – March 8
NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program – March 8
New Medicare Episode Payment Model – March 12
RWJF Change Leadership Programs – February 21 & March 14
MIPS Quality Data Reporting via CMS Web Interface – March 16
Rural Communities Healthy Out-of-School Time – March 16
Rural Health Clinic Policy and Assessment Program – March 16
Comments Requested: FDA Opioid Prescribing Guidelines – March 16
Abstracts for Rural Cancer Research – March 19
CMS Invites Clinicians to Participate in MIPS Burden Study – March 23
Indian Health Service Scholarship Program – March 28
Grants for Drug-Free Communities – March 29
Tribal Health – Enhancement for Cancer Screening – March 30
MIPS Quality Data Reporting – March 31
Request for Information Regarding Patient-Reported Outcome Measures – April 1
Grants to Support Health Insurance Market in States – April 5
Grants for Treatment and Recovery for Youth and Families – April 10
National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program – April 23
Comments Requested: Changes to Short-Term, Limited Duration Health Insurance – April 23
Tribal-Researcher Capacity Building Grants – April 23
Funding to Improve Quality Payment Program Measures  – May 2
NHSC State Loan Repayment Program – May 7
Nominations for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) – May 15
Grants for Family Planning – May 24
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