Free at Home COVID-19 Test

Date: January 18, 2022

Get free at-home COVID-19 tests.  Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order 4 free at-⁠home COVID-⁠19 tests. The tests are completely free. Orders will usually ship in 7-12 days. Order your tests now so you have them when you need them.  https://www.covidtests.gov/

If you need a COVID-⁠19 test now, please see other testing resources for free testing locations in your area, or visit the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services COVID-19 FREE Testing webpage.

Supreme Court Upholds CMS Vaccine Mandate in All 50 States

Date: January 14, 2022

Today, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling to reinstate the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) COVID Vaccine Mandate policy in all 50 states.

For RHCs, this means that RHCs will be expected to comply with the Vaccine Mandate policy as soon as January 28th. There may be some additional time allowed for RHCs in states where this policy was blocked by the injunction, and the National Association of Rural Health Clinics assumes that CMS will re-issue or update this guidance with a clarification soon.

This ruling settles the on-again, off-again nature of this mandate for the time being. The Supreme Court did not rule on the fundamental constitutionality of the policy. Instead, they ruled on the authority of CMS to enforce this rule while the underlying court cases challenging the constitutionality of the rule work their way through the court system.

The bottom line is that RHCs should prepare their COVID vaccine mandate policies and procedures immediately. Eventually, all employees will need to be fully vaccinated, or properly granted a medical or religious exemption. For a detailed overview of the Vaccine mandate, please review the article here.

Biden-Harris Administration Requires Insurance Companies and Group Health Plans to Cover the Cost of At-Home COVID-19 Tests, Increasing Access to Free Tests

Date: January 10, 2022

As part of its ongoing efforts across many channels to expand Americans’ access to free testing, the Biden-Harris Administration is requiring insurance companies and group health plans to cover the cost of over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests, so people with private health coverage can get them for free starting January 15th.  The new coverage requirement means that most consumers with private health coverage can go online or to a pharmacy or store, buy a test, and either get it paid for up front by their health plan, or get reimbursed for the cost by submitting a claim to their plan. This requirement incentivizes insurers to cover these costs up front and ensures individuals do not need an order from their health care provider to access these tests for free.

Beginning January 15, 2022, individuals with private health insurance coverage or covered by a group health plan who purchase an over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic test authorized, cleared, or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be able to have those test costs covered by their plan or insurance. Insurance companies and health plans are required to cover 8 free over-the-counter at-home tests per covered individual per month. That means a family of four, all on the same plan, would be able to get up to 32 of these tests covered by their health plan per month. There is no limit on the number of tests, including at-home tests, that are covered if ordered or administered by a health care provider following an individualized clinical assessment, including for those who may need them due to underlying medical conditions.

“Under President Biden’s leadership, we are requiring insurers and group health plans to make tests free for millions of Americans. This is all part of our overall strategy to ramp-up access to easy-to-use, at-home tests at no cost,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Since we took office, we have more than tripled the number of sites where people can get COVID-19 tests for free, and we’re also purchasing half a billion at-home, rapid tests to send for free to Americans who need them. By requiring private health plans to cover people’s at-home tests, we are further expanding Americans’ ability to get tests for free when they need them.”

Over-the-counter test purchases will be covered in the commercial market without the need for a health care provider’s order or individualized clinical assessment, and without any cost-sharing requirements such as deductibles, co-payments or coinsurance, prior authorization, or other medical management requirements. 

As part of the requirement, the Administration is incentivizing insurers and group health plans to set up programs that allow people to get the over-the-counter tests directly through preferred pharmacies, retailers or other entities with no out-of-pocket costs.  Insurers and plans would cover the costs upfront, eliminating the need for consumers to submit a claim for reimbursement. When plans and insurers make tests available for upfront coverage through preferred pharmacies or retailers, they are still required to reimburse tests purchased by consumers outside of that network, at a rate of up to $12 per individual test (or the cost of the test, if less than $12). For example, if an individual has a plan that offers direct coverage through their preferred pharmacy but that individual instead purchases tests through an online retailer, the plan is still required to reimburse them up to $12 per individual test. Consumers can find out more information from their plan about how their plan or insurer will cover over-the-counter tests.

“Testing is critically important to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, as well as to quickly diagnose COVID-19 so that it can be effectively treated. Today’s action further removes financial barriers and expands access to COVID-19 tests for millions of people,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure.

State Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs are currently required to cover FDA-authorized at-home COVID-19 tests without cost-sharing. In 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration issued guidance explaining that State Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs must cover all types of FDA-authorized COVID-19 tests without cost sharing under CMS’s interpretation of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2019 (ARP). Medicare pays for COVID-19 diagnostic tests performed by a laboratory, such as PCR and antigen tests, with no beneficiary cost sharing when the test is ordered by a physician, non-physician practitioner, pharmacist, or other authorized health care professional. People enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan should check with their plan to see if their plan offers coverage and payment for at-home over-the-counter COVID-19 tests. 

This effort is in addition to a number of actions the Biden Administration is taking to expand access to testing for all Americans. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is providing up to 50 million free, at-home tests to community health centers and Medicare-certified health clinics for distribution at no cost to patients and community members. The program is intended to ensure COVID-19 tests are made available to populations and settings in need of testing. HHS also has established more than 10,000 free community-based pharmacy testing sites around the country.  To respond to the Omicron surge, HHS and FEMA are creating surge testing sites in states across the nation.  

For more information, please see these Frequently Asked Questions, https://www.cms.gov/files/document/11022-faqs-otc-testing-guidance.pdf

For additional details on the requirements, visit https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/EBSA/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/faqs/aca-part-51.pdf

Contact: CMS Media Relations
CMS Media Inquiries

Free Over-The-Counter COVID Tests for RHCs – Order Now!

Date: December 23, 2021

In early December, the Biden Administration announced that they would be distributing Over-The-Counter COVID tests to certain health care facilities including Rural Health Clinics (RHCs). Today, that program launches for all 5,000 rural health clinics nationwide.

If you follow the steps below, and complete your order by Tuesday you should be able to get some tests from the first shipment!

The intent of this program is to have the RHCs distribute testing kits for free to your community. You may also give these testing kits away to your patients.

The National Association of Rural Health Clinics (NARHC) wants to note that this is intended to be an ongoing program, meaning that you should be able to order supply of Over-the-Counter COVID testing kits in the weeks and months to come. NARHC encourages all RHCs to sign up today!

Please see the official message below from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for details:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that all Medicare-certified RHCs are invited to order free, FDA-approved COVID-19 self-testing supplies for distribution in their communities through the HRSA’s COVID-19 Testing Supply Program.

How to Enroll in the HRSA COVID-19 Testing Supply Program

The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) will help you enroll in the HRSA COVID-19 Testing Supply Program.

  1. Confirm that you are a Medicare-certified RHC and identify your Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Certification Number (CCN). If you are unsure, visit the CMS QCOR website to look up your CCN number and confirm your status as a Medicare-certified RHC. 
  2. Visit the online registration to provide FORHP with some basic information about your RHC including shipping address and hours of operation.
  3. Sign the HRSA COVID-19 Testing Supply Program Conditions of Participation Agreement (linked here) and return it to HRSA@hrsa.gov. You may sign in whatever way is easier for you – either electronically or by returning a printed and manually signed document.

Ordering Information and Delivery Logistics

Testing supplies must be requested via an online ordering system, called the Diagnostics Partner Ordering Portal (DPOP).  

FORHP will use your enrollment information to create a DPOP account for your Rural Health Clinic. You must complete step 2 and step 3 of the enrollment process in order for FORHP to create a DPOP account for your Rural Health Clinic.

Before placing your first order, confirm that your site Point of Contact, receiving address, and site hours are correct in DPOP or update accordingly.

All orders must be received by midnight local time on Tuesdays in order to be included in the next week’s shipment. At this time HRSA anticipates 7-10 calendar days for the test kits to arrive at your healthcare facility.

You must be able to receive a truck with a 53-foot trailer (e.g. an 18-wheeler) at your facility/the location where you will be storing the test kits. If you are UNABLE to receive an 18-wheeler at your facility but are still interested in receiving free, FDA-approved COVID-19 testing supplies, please email RHCTestKit.HRSA@hrsa.gov and HRSA will reach out if the shipping requirements change.

Ordering Considerations

  • You have the option to order tests in multiples of individual shippers (45 test kits per shipper) or pallets (1,350 test kits per pallet).
  • A shipper (45 test kits) is 5 lbs with dimensions 19-3/4 L x 15-1/4 W x 9-1/2 H (inches).
  • A pallet (1,350 test kits) is approximately 675 lbs with dimensions 48 L x 40 W x 56 H (inches). Each pallet contains 30 shippers.
  • Each test kit contains two tests. Each test kit is intended for use with one individual with the second test occurring at least 24 hours and no more than 36 hours between tests.
  • As of December 2021, participating RHCs can order a minimum of 5 shippers (225 test kits total) during each ordering cycle. The maximum order is 1,500 shippers (67,500 test kits total).

Storage

Test kits must be stored at room temperature (15-25?C/59-77?F)

Rapid Self-Test/At-Home/Over-the-Counter Test Product

  • Quidel QuickVue® – intended for the qualitative detection of the nucleocapsid proteins from SARS-CoV-2 from individuals with or without symptoms or other epidemiological reasons to suspect COVID-19 when tested twice over two or three days with at least 24 hours and no more than 36 hours between tests
  • The Quidel QuickVue® Test:
    • Rapid antigen test that an individual can self-administer at home
    • Results available within 10 minutes
    • Can be used if symptomatic, asymptomatic, or within 6 days of symptom onset
    • Can be self-administered for use by those 14 years of age and older and for those 2-13 years of age, if an adult performs the test
  • Test kits will have a shelf life of one year.

Questions and Resources

Policy/Program Questions: Email RHCTestKit.HRSA@hrsa.gov

DPOP Systems Access Issues: Tier 1 Helpdesk
COVID-19 Administration Reporting System (CARS) Help Desk
Email: CARS_HelpDesk@cdc.gov
Phone: 1-833-748-1979
8:00 AM to 8:00 PM ET, Monday-Friday
Note: Do not contact the Tier 1 Helpdesk unless you have confirmed that you are fully enrolled in the program

Product Questions: Quidel 1-800-874-1517 (Option 2, then Option 5)
7:00am to 5:00pm PT, Monday- Friday

Rural Health Clinic COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Program

Date: December 14, 2021

Vaccines in Rural America: A Cornerstone of Patient Care

Thanks to vaccines, we no longer worry about diseases like polio, measles, tetanus, and rubella—illnesses that plagued generations. Today, COVID-19 vaccines are saving lives in rural America, and globally.

Join Wanda Filer, MD, MBA, FAAFP, who will present proven and new strategies to overcome hesitancy in vaccines and ensure communities are fully protected against all vaccine-preventable illnesses. With deep experience serving rural health populations, Dr. Filer will address successful ways to approach patients, staff and the broader community, with many approaches tailored specifically for America’s rural audiences.

Webinar Date: December 15, 2021

Time: 3:00P-4:00P ET

Register Here.

Free Webinar – Vaccines in Rural America: A Cornerstone of Patient Care

Date: December 9, 2021

Join the Georgia Health Policy Center Wednesday, December 15, 2021 at 3 PM ET, for a free webinar as part of the RHC COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Program, titled “Vaccines in Rural America: A Cornerstone of Patient Care.”

Webinar Description

Thanks to vaccines, we no longer worry about infectious diseases like polio, measles, tetanus, and rubella – illnesses that plagued generations. Today, COVID-19 vaccines are saving lives in rural America, and globally.

Join Wanda Filer, M.D., MBA, chief medical officer at VaxCare Corp., who will share new and proven strategies to overcome hesitancy and ensure communities are fully protected against all vaccine-preventable illnesses. With deep experience serving rural populations, Dr. Filer will address successful ways to approach patients, staff, and the broader community, tailored specifically for America’s rural audiences.

You must register in advance for the Free Webinar!

Date: Wednesday, December 15th

Time: 3:00 PM ET

Speaker: Wanda Filer, MD, MBA, FAAFP; VaxCare Corp.

Title: Vaccines in Rural America: A Cornerstone of Patient Care

To register, go to https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_6Hoh-2vhRmG-HYowRm2_yw.

HHS COVID-19 Public Education Campaign

Date: December 8, 2021

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is pleased to share the expanded Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) COVID-19 public education campaign, We Can Do This, which aims to increase public confidence in and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines while reinforcing basic prevention measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.  These new materials can be used to educate your community about who is eligible for a booster (all adults!) and when they are eligible. HHS expects to make these materials available in Spanish soon and you are encouraged to utilize these resources when holding events or calls with your networks about the importance of getting boosted.

NARHC Webinar: CMS Vaccine Mandate Details

Date: December 6, 2021

CMS Vaccine Mandate Details

How does this impact your RHC?

December 8th, 2:00 PM Eastern

On November 4, 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published their federal vaccine mandate interim final rule, mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for employees in a wide array of health care facilities, including RHCs.

You are encouraged to join a webinar detailing the CMS Vaccine Mandate on Wednesday, December 8th, 2021, at 2 PM ET.

Originally intended to go into effect on December 6, the CMS mandate is currently blocked nationwide due to legal challenges.

This webinar will review the mandate as written, update RHCs on the status of the various court cases, and explain the required update to RHC policies and procedures to account for these new Conditions of Participation, if the mandate is ruled as allowed to go into effect. NARHC has already published a sample template of the vaccine mandate P&P which you can find here.

RHCs can submit questions during registration or ask them live during the webinar.

COVID-19 Medicaid and CHIP Data Snapshot through May 2021

Date: November 24, 2021

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is highlighting the impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) on families and individuals enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through the COVID-19 data snapshot release.

The snapshot includes data from March 2020 through May 2021 for reproductive health services; services delivered via telehealth; service use among beneficiaries who are 18 years of age and under; services for mental health; substance use disorders (SUD); and COVID-19 testing, treatment, and care services.

Many Medicaid and CHIP services have returned to pre-pandemic levels. but there are still services needed to make up for those missed during the COVID-19 PHE. CMS continues to partner with states to monitor data to ensure families and individuals have the access they need to critical health care services such as perinatal, mental health, and pediatric services.

To view the Medicaid and CHIP Data Snapshot, please visit https://www.medicaid.gov/stateresource-center/downloads/covid19-data-snapshot-11122021.pdf

New Report: Critical Access Hospitals’ Initial Response to COVID-19 by System Affiliation

November 23, 2021

The Flex Monitoring Team (FMT) has released a new data report, Critical Access Hospitals’ Initial Response to COVID-19 by System Affiliation. This report presents data on the initial response to COVID-19 in system-affiliated and independent Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs). The data come from a survey of CAH CEOs in eight states about their response to COVID-19 from February to August 2020, and findings include information on COVID-19 case volume, personal protective equipment (PPE) supply, and the perceived impact of being a system-affiliated or independent CAH on their overall response to COVID-19. 

Additional information on previous FMT publications related to COVID-19, as well as a recorded webinar from this study, are available on the FMT website.

View Data Report