Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: January 13, 2022

Spread the Word About Vaccine Boosters. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services released new resources – posters, flyers, videos, and talking points – to help promote the extra protection from COVID-19 boosters. All vaccinated adults aged 18+ are eligible for a booster. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded booster eligibility to include adolescents ages 12 to 17, recommending that they receive a booster shot five months after their initial vaccination. The CDC also released a new resource, based on input from rural health departments and organizations, with 12 strategies to increase vaccine uptake in rural communities (pdf).  Search by zip code to find nearby locations providing adult and pediatric vaccines and boosters for COVID-19 and the flu at vaccines.gov.

Coverage Available for At-Home COVID-19 Tests. 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 eight (8) free over-the-counter at-home tests per covered individual 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. This policy comes in addition to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ effort to provide up to 50 million free, at-home tests to community health centers and Medicare-certified rural health clinics for distribution at no cost to patients and community members.

Saturday, January 15 is the Last Day for HealthCare.gov Open Enrollment. As of Tuesday, January 11, nearly 14 million consumers had signed up for coverage through the Federal site, HealthCare.gov, and State-based Marketplaces. Those still looking to sign up before the Saturday deadline can find local help from certified assisters. Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a series of reports on access to health care coverage for uninsured and underinsured populations, including rural Americans. This research details a higher degree of zero- and low-premium health plans available to eligible rural residents.

Request for Comment on Broadband Programs in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – Comment by February 4. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is responsible for distributing more than $48 billion in broadband funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was passed in November. The NTIA requests comment from stakeholders across the nation to inform their development of programs for these funds, which will be allocated to states for distribution. 

CDC: Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Among Adults. During 2015 – 2019, an estimated 10.6 million adults in the United States reported having had suicidal thoughts during the previous year. While these are national and state-level data, the report stresses that effective prevention requires more information at the population level. In 2020, the CDC reported that suicide rates in rural areas were higher than urban areas from 2000 through 2018.

Rural Healthy People 2030 Survey – Deadline February 14. The Southwest Rural Health Research Center at Texas A&M University wants to hear from individuals who live or work in rural communities for a 20-minute survey on the most important Healthy People 2030 objectives for rural health. The project is supported by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy through its Rural Health Research Centers program. 

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June 2021, HRSA launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for providers who are waivered to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) still have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 payment on behalf of each provider who trained to obtain the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine after January 1, 2019. Approximately $1.5 million in program funding remains available for RHCs and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted.  Send questions to DATA2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov. There is ongoing availability of a free online course for waiver eligibility training from the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine and the Providers Clinical Support System.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: January 6, 2022

New Funding Available for RMOMS program – Applications Due April 5. This week, the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) posted a funding opportunity for the Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies Program (RMOMS). The RMOMS initiative began three years ago to address persistent disparities and lack of obstetric services in rural areas. For this round, applicants can request up to $1 million per year for a four-year program, subject to available funding. Each grantee will build networks for continuum of care, test models to address unmet needs for their target population, and develop sustainable financing. Learn more about the ongoing work (PDF) of current grantees in the first annual report, and write to RMOMS@hrsa.gov with questions. 

Spread the Word About Vaccine Boosters. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services released new resources – posters, flyers, videos, and talking points – to help promote the extra protection from COVID-19 boosters. All vaccinated adults aged 18+ are eligible for a booster. Search by zip code to find nearby locations providing adult and pediatric vaccines and boosters for COVID-19 and the flu at vaccines.gov.

Expanded Eligibility Allows More Rural Clinicians to Qualify for Loan RepaymentJoin us for a webinar on Thursday, January 13, at 2:00pm ET to hear how qualified health care clinicians could receive student loan repayment in return for serving at NHSC-approved sites – even if their health professional shortage area (HPSA) score has not been competitive for awards in the past. Recent funding increases make it much easier for rural clinicians to qualify for loan repayment under its programs. Find out which program is right for you, and apply to one of the three loan repayment programs. Last application cycle, every eligible NHSC applicant received an award regardless of HPSA score. The deadline to apply through NHSC is Thursday, February 3 at 7:30pm ET., so act quickly!

Simpler Dialing Code for Suicide Hotline. Recently, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced a new dialing code, 988, for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. While the original 10-digit number is still in use in most areas, 988 will be available to everyone across the U.S. beginning July 16, 2022. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. but some groups, including people who live in rural areas, have substantially higher rates

CMS Releases Guidance on Enforcement of Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers. Last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a memo to State Survey Agency Directors providing provider-specific guidance and survey procedures for assessing and maintaining compliance with the November 5 rule requiring COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers. This guidance applies to most Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers except for those in the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Surveyors in these states should not undertake any efforts to implement or enforce this interim final rule.

NIH Draft Report on Priorities for Rural Telehealth – Comment by February 4. The Office of Disease Prevention at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) invites public comments on the draft report from the recent Pathways to  Prevention Workshop: Improving Rural Health Through Telehealth-Guided Provider-to-Provider Communication. The report summarizes the workshop discussions and identifies future research priorities. 

Share Your Experiences on Rural Emergency Preparedness and Response. The Rural Health Information Hub (RHIhub)  wants to hear about how rural communities, health care facilities, public health departments, first responders, tribes, rural serving organizations, and others have had to adapt, collaborate, and innovate in the face of disasters and public health emergencies. RHIhub is looking for examples of lessons learned, successes, challenges, or other helpful information to highlight related to emergency preparedness, response, and recovery for a variety of disasters. Examples will be shared in an emergency preparedness toolkit on the RHIhub website.

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June 2021, HRSA launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for providers who are waivered to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) still have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 payment on behalf of each provider who trained to obtain the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine after January 1, 2019. Approximately $1.5 million in program funding remains available for RHCs and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted. Send questions to DATA2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov. There is ongoing availability of a free online course for waiver eligibility training from the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine and the Providers Clinical Support System.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: December 22, 2021

HRSA Rural Public Health Workforce Training Network Program – applications due March 18.  The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) anticipates awards for more than 30 community-based organizations that will join an effort to train and place public health professionals in rural and tribal areas. Eligible applicants include minority-serving institutions of higher education, Critical Access Hospitals, community health centers, nursing homes, Rural Health Clinics, substance use providers, and state or local workforce development boards. Each grantee will receive approximately $1.5 million for a three-year project. The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) will hold a webinar for applicants on Wednesday, January 5 at 1:00 pm ET.

HRSA Rural Residency Planning and Development (RRPD) Program  – deadline extended until January 11. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) revised the program sustainability requirements and extended the deadline for RRPD grant applications. Applicants should review the changes and can resubmit their applications if needed. HRSA will only review your last submitted application. This program aims to increase opportunities for physicians to train in rural residencies. A total of $10.5 million will develop 14 new rural residency programs accredited by the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Eligible applicants include rural hospitals, GME consortiums, and tribal organizations. For questions, email RuralResidency@hrsa.gov

HRSA Small Health Care Provider Quality Improvement Program Funding Opportunity – applications due March 21. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be making approximately 40 awards of up to $200,000 each to support the planning and implementation of quality improvement activities in rural communities. Applicants must be rural domestic public or private nonprofit entities with demonstrated experience serving, or the capacity to serve, rural underserved populations in a HRSA-designated rural area.  The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) will hold a technical assistance webinar for applicants via Zoom on Wednesday, January 26, 2022 from 2-3 p.m. ET. A recording will be available for those who cannot attend. 

Share Your Experiences on Rural Emergency Preparedness and Response. The Rural Health Information Hub (RHIhub) wants to hear about how rural communities, health care facilities, public health departments, first responders, tribes, rural serving organizations, and others have had to adapt, collaborate, and innovate in the face of disasters and public health emergencies. RHIhub is looking for examples of lessons learned, successes, challenges, or other helpful information to highlight related to emergency preparedness, response, and recovery for a variety of disasters. Please include a brief synopsis describing the example that includes contact information, if possible. RHIhub may reach out to you or the contact provided to learn more about the public health emergency or disaster to be shared in an emergency preparedness toolkit on the RHIhub website. E-mail examples to Makenzie Atherton at makenzie@ruralhealthinfo.org with the subject line: Rural Emergency Preparedness Example.

Spread the Word About Vaccine Boosters. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services released new resources – posters, flyers, videos, and talking points – to help promote the extra protection from COVID-19 boosters. All vaccinated adults aged 18+ are eligible for a booster. Search by zip code to find nearby locations providing adult and pediatric vaccines and boosters for COVID-19 and the flu at vaccines.gov.

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June 2021, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for providers who are waivered to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) still have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 payment on behalf of each provider who trained to obtain the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine after January 1, 2019.  Approximately $1.5 million in program funding remains available for RHCs and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted. Send questions to DATA2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov. There is ongoing availability of a free online course for waiver eligibility training from the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine and the Providers Clinical Support System.

Rural Public Health Workforce Training Network Program Opportunity

Date: December 17, 2021

Rural Public Health Workforce Training Network

Application Deadline: March 18, 2022

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through  the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA), Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP), announced the availability of nearly $48 million in American Rescue Plan funding for community based-organizations to expand public health capacity in rural and tribal communities through health care job development, training and placement. Awardees will be able to use this funding to address workforce needs related to the long-term effects of COVID-19, health information technology (IT), and other key workforce issues.

Rural Public Health Workforce Training Network Program awardees will establish community health networks, which may be composed of, but are not limited to, community and technical colleges, Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and other minority-serving institutions; Critical Access Hospitals, community health centers, nursing homes, Rural Health Clinics, and substance use providers; and state or local workforce development boards. These networks will work to establish sustainable placement opportunities and integrate newly trained public health professionals into quality organizations and care teams to support the provision of health care services in rural communities.

HRSA anticipates more than 30 award recipients will be able to develop formal training and/or certification programs in order to increase capacity in the following workforce training tracks: 

  • Community Health Support;
  • Health IT and/or Telehealth Technical Support;
  • Community Para-Medicine; and
  • Case Management Staff and/or Respiratory Therapists.

Approximately $1,545,000 each will be available for a three-year period of performance. Award recipients will receive the full award amount in the first year of the period of performance and are required to allocate funds across all three years.

FORHP will hold a webinar for applicants on Wednesday, January 5, 2022 from 1 – 2 p.m. ET. A recording will be made available for those who cannot attend. For dial-in information, view the NOFO on Grants.gov, click the Package tab, then Preview, and Download Instructions; technical assistance information is on page (ii).

If you have any questions about the program, please send an email to: RPHWTNP@hrsa.gov.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: December 16, 2021

Spread the Word About Vaccine Boosters. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services released new resources – posters, flyers, videos, and talking points – to help promote the extra protection from COVID-19 boosters. All vaccinated adults aged 18+ are eligible for a booster. Search by zip code to find nearby locations providing adult and pediatric vaccines and boosters for COVID-19 and the flu at vaccines.gov.

Federal Response to Tornado Outbreaks. The process for federal assistance begins once a state’s governor makes a request and the President declares that a major disaster exists.  Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individual and business owners recover from damage. HHS identifies behavioral health as a concern that may be overlooked in the days and months after a disaster. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a mobile app with immediate access to resources for first responders. 

Talking About the Link Between ACEs, Overdose, and Suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) want greater awareness of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and their connection to high rates of overdose and suicide. This week CDC announced a new training webpage, UrgentRelatedPreventable.org, designed in collaboration with the American Public Health Association to provide background and talking points. The site explains how exposure to certain events and conditions in childhood have lasting effects on health, well-being, and prosperity far into adulthood.  

CDC Evaluating Substance Use Prevention Frameworks Incorporating ACEs Prevention Strategy – February 22. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will make six awards with total investment of more than $24 million for rigorous evaluation of prevention approaches to substance use and overdose that incorporate efforts to prevent adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The strongest applications will document established relationships between the institutions designing and leading evaluation efforts and the communities already implementing ACEs-related activities and/or substance use and overdose prevention strategies.

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers.  In June 2021, HRSA launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for providers who are waivered to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) still have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 payment on behalf of each provider who trained to obtain the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine after January 1, 2019. Approximately $1.5 million in program funding remains available for RHCs and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted. Send questions to DATA2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov. There is ongoing availability of a free online course for waiver eligibility training from the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine and the Providers Clinical Support System.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: December 9, 2021

Three More Weeks for RHCs to Spend COVID-19 Testing Funds. Participating Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) have until December 31 to spend RHC COVID-19 Testing Program funds.  RHCs will continue reporting program data through January 2022. Please note that the RHC COVID-19 Testing and Mitigation Program and program reporting will continue until January 2023.  HRSA funded the National Association of Rural Health Clinics (NARHC) to provide technical assistance to RHCs on these two programs. Contact RHCCOVID-19Testing@hrsa.gov for more information.

Medicare Telehealth Visits Skyrocketed in 2020. In a new research report from HHS, analysts examined changes in Medicare telehealth usage in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, and found a 63-fold increase in the number of Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) beneficiary telehealth visits in 2020, from approximately 840,000 in 2019 to nearly 52.7 million in 2020. With the public health emergency declaration, Medicare expanded the type of telehealth services allowed and permitted both rural and urban providers to deliver telehealth services. The emergency actions also allowed for services to be delivered wherever a Medicare beneficiary was located, including in their home or temporary health sites. While HHS’s analysis found lower rates of overall telehealth use among rural beneficiaries, the use of telecommunications services (i.e., virtual check-ins and e-visits) increased most for rural beneficiaries – from 1 percent of telehealth visits in 2019 to 12 percent in 2020. The report cites limitations in broadband access and challenges with internet availability and affordability as likely barriers in rural areas. For some rural providers, namely Rural Health Clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers, telehealth visits increased substantially – a nearly 100-fold increase from a total of 9,000 telehealth visits in 2019 to more than 830,000 telehealth visits in 2020.

CDC Seeking Public Input on Work-Related Stress for Health Workers – Comment Deadline Extended to January 25. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seeks information on best and promising practices for the positive mental health and well-being of health workers. The feedback will be used to inform interventions under development by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June 2021, HRSA launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for providers who are waivered to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) still have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 payment on behalf of each provider who trained to obtain the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine after January 1, 2019. Approximately $1.5 million in program funding remains available for RHCs and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted. Send questions to DATA2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov. There is ongoing availability of a free online course for waiver eligibility training from the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine and the Providers Clinical Support System.

 

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: December 2, 2021

Spread the Word About Vaccine BoostersHHS released new resources – posters, flyers, videos, and talking points – to help promote the extra protection from COVID-19 boosters. All vaccinated adults aged 18+ are eligible for a booster. Search by zip code to find nearby locations providing adult and pediatric vaccines and boosters for COVID-19 and the flu at vaccines.gov.

National Advisory Committee Weighs in on Rural Emergency Hospitals. In December 2020, Congress created a new type of Medicare provider called the Rural Emergency Hospital (REH) as a response to loss of emergency services in rural areas due to hospital closures. The new designation will allow a Critical Access Hospital or small rural hospital with no more than 50 beds to convert to an REH with 24-hour emergency services, but no inpatient care. This report from the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services summarizes the statutory requirements for REHs, examines implications for various federal entities likely to be involved in their administration, and makes 16 recommendations to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to ensure the success of the REH model.

New Research: Outcomes from ED Visits at Rural Hospitals. In an open access article on JAMA Network Open, researchers examine 30-day outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries after treatment of life-threatening conditions in emergency departments (EDs) at both urban and rural hospitals. The study was prompted by a 50 percent increase in visits to rural EDs in the last 10 years, while rural hospitals continue to close.  The researchers conclude that their findings underscore the importance of rural and critical access EDs for treatment of life-threatening conditions among Medicare recipients. 

CDC Tracking Rural Vaccination Rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently added metro/non-metro vaccination data to its COVID Data Tracker website. Users can select total population vaccinated or select different age groups (≥ 12, ≥ 18, ≥ 65) as well as a line graph of vaccination rates, by the six urban-rural classifications used by the National Center for Health Statistics. The site also measures rates of vaccination by the CDC Social Vulnerability Index, which uses U.S. Census data on categories like poverty, housing, and vehicle access. 

New AHRQ Chartbook on Rural Health Care. This week, the federal agency that researches what makes health care safer, more affordable, higher quality, and accessible to all released its compendium of data and trends for rural populations. The chartbook is part of the annual National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report (NHQDR) that assesses the performance of our health care system across these measures.

Analysis: Medicaid Models for Maternal Opioid Misuse in Four Rural States. This research brief from the University of Iowa examines the demonstration model for Maternal Opioid Misuse, created by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation in 2018. The analysis hones in on the way state-level Medicaid policy was applied in rural areas, and compares the approach and outcomes in four mostly-rural states: Colorado, Indiana, Maine, and Missouri. 

Nominations Sought for Indigenous Health Equity Committee – deadline extended to January 7. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health is building an advisory committee for the Center for Indigenous Innovation and Health Equity, a new initiative that began in September. The Tribal Advisory Committee will have 16 delegate positions, one from each of the 12 geographic areas served by the Indian Health Service and four national at-large member positions.

Surveying the Experiences of Transgender People. In 2015, the National Center for Transgender Equality conducted the largest survey examining the lives of transgender people. More than 27,000 respondents from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and overseas military bases answered questions about their experiences with social determinants of health such as education, employment, family life, health care, housing, and interactions with the criminal justice system. Information from the survey fills in some of the large gaps in research and provides critical tools for researchers, policymakers, and advocates seeking to eliminate disparities. Though it’s estimated that at least three million LGBT people live in rural America, there remains a need for data from rural areas. To that end, the National Center for Transgender Equality asks for volunteers living in rural areas to sign up for the 2022 US Transgender Survey.

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June 2021, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for providers who are waivered to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) still have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 payment on behalf of each provider who trained to obtain the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine after January 1, 2019. Approximately $1.5 million in program funding remains available for RHCs and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted. Send questions to DATA2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov. There is ongoing availability of a free online course for waiver eligibility training from the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine and the Providers Clinical Support System.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcement

Date: November 24, 2021

Reports for Round One of Provider Relief Funding Due by November 30. Providers who received funds prior to June 30, 2020 still have time to complete their reporting until this coming Tuesday, November 30. Providers who fail to meet this deadline will be required to return their PRF payments by December 30, 2021.

American Rescue Plan Includes $7.5 Billion in Rural Payments. On November 23rd, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) began distributing $7.5 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) Rural payments to health care providers and suppliers who serve rural Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Medicare patients. More than 40,000 providers are receiving payments. Many ARP Rural payment recipients will also be eligible for additional funding through the $17 billion Provider Relief Fund (PRF) Phase 4 opportunity that used the same application; Phase 4 payments will be announced in the coming weeks. Health care organizations can use these payments to make up for the lost revenues and increased expenses caused by the pandemic.

CMS Focuses on Rural Health. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) added two new reports to its Rural Health Strategy to achieve health equity for rural, frontier, tribal, and island communities. Improving Health in Rural Communities: FY 2021 Year in Review (pdf) outlines CMS’ activities in 10 focus areas that include: payment and policy for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program; maternal health; mental health and substance use disorders; and COVID-19. Examining Rural Hospital Bypass for Outpatient Services (pdf) explores what happens to financial viability when patients seek services beyond their local facilities and providers. 

Annual Rural America at a Glance: 2021 Edition. Each year, the Economic Research Service (ERS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports on population and economic trends in rural areas. This edition focuses on factors affecting the resiliency and recovery of rural communities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including population and employment change, intensity of infection, vaccination rates, and broadband internet availability and adoption. Last week, ERS economist Elizabeth Dobis presented the findings in an hour-long webinar that is available for viewing. 

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June 2021, HRSA launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for providers who are waivered to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) still have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 payment on behalf of each provider who trained to obtain the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine after January 1, 2019. Approximately $1.5 million in program funding remains available for RHCs and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted. Send questions to DATA2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov. There is ongoing availability of a free online course for waiver eligibility training from the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine and the Providers Clinical Support System.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

November 18, 2021

HRSA Celebrates National Rural Health Day. The public is invited to join the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) online TODAY, November 18 at 11:30 am ET for a feature HRSA presentation. Acting HRSA Administration Diane Espinosa will welcome speakers from several HHS agencies and the Domestic White House Policy Council who will present on federal strategies to prioritize health equity and eliminate disparities in health access, policy, and practice. Then later at a virtual presentation at 3:00 pm ET, Federal Office of Rural Health Policy grantees will share best practices from their projects that consider social determinants of health to improve health outcomes.

November is National COPD Awareness Month. The education and awareness program Learn More, Breathe Better provides resources for patients, caregivers, and health professionals for better understanding of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, also known as COPD. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that more than 57 percent of deaths from chronic lower respiratory disease in the most rural counties were potentially preventable, compared with 13 percent in the most urban counties. On Friday, November 19 at 9:00 pm ET, musician Lyle Lovett and Ted Koppel will host a virtual event featuring performances and interviews from Lovett, Rodney Crowell, and Steve Earle. The group wants to raise awareness of the added risk that COVID-19 brings to those with COPD. 

Community Toolkit for Addressing Health Misinformation. The new resource asks for participation from individuals, teachers, school administrators, librarians, faith leaders, and health care professionals to understand, identify, and stop the spread of misinformation. Earlier this year, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory, calling misinformation an urgent threat to public health. The toolkit includes common types of misinformation and a checklist to help evaluate the accuracy of health-related content. 

Facilities Selected for Rural Provider Transition Project. The project selected five facilities to participate in the second year of the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s (FORHP) Rural Healthcare Provider Transition Project: Sierra Vista Hospital in New Mexico, Dahl Memorial Health Care in Montana, Golden Valley Memorial Healthcare in Missouri, Coteau des Prairies Health Care System in South Dakota, and Electra Hospital District in Texas. Participants will receive targeted technical assistance provided by the National Rural Health Resource Center to help transition to value-based care and population health management. 

CDC: Sepsis-related Death Rates Higher in Rural Areas. Sepsis is an extreme response to infection, triggering a life-threatening chain reaction throughout the body. For this report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that, in 2019, there were 201,092 deaths involving sepsis, with three-fourths of those deaths occurring among persons aged 65 and older.  Within that age range, death rates were highest among non-Hispanic black adults (377.4 per 100,000), followed by non-Hispanic white (275.7), and Hispanic (246.4). Sepsis-related death rates were higher in rural areas (307.3 per 100,000) compared with urban areas (271.3).

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June of this year, HRSA launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for providers who are waivered to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) still have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 payment on behalf of each provider who trained to obtain the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine after January 1, 2019. Approximately $1.5 million in program funding remains available for RHCs and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted. Send questions to DATA2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov. There is ongoing availability of a free online course for waiver eligibility training from the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine and the Providers Clinical Support System.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: November 12, 2021

COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Brings Public Health Focus to Rural Areas. On Wednesday, the White House announced a $785 million investment to respond to inequities in underserved communities that were exacerbated by the pandemic. The funding is based on recommendations from the Task Force that was created in January of this year to make specific recommendations for bolstering public health in rural areas and communities of color. The Task Force included rural representation in Tim Putnam, a former rural hospital administrator from Indiana who chaired the Healthcare Access and Quality Subcommittee. 

HRSA Celebrates National Rural Health Day. The public is invited to join the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) online on Thursday, November 18 at 11:30 am ET. Speakers and panelists from several agencies will share what HRSA has learned from the efforts at the federal level and from collaboration with state- and community-level partners. Health equity is a priority focus, and Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) grantees will share best practices from their projects that consider social determinants of health to improve health outcomes.

Wisconsin Project to Prevent Overdose Death Sees Results. The primary goal of the Prescription Drug/Opioid Overdose-Related Deaths Prevention Project – PDO for short – was to reduce the number of deaths and adverse events by 10 percent in three high-risk counties. Two counties targeted for the program are mostly metropolitan, one is rural. The report describes policy challenges to distributing Naloxone, a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose, through local public health agencies and the ways that officials were able to work through them. Although reducing stigma about addiction was not a stated goal of the PDO project, it was the first step in training as many people as possible to recognize an overdose and take action.

CDC: Infant Mortality Rates for Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Counties. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report data showing that, in 2019, the infant mortality rate was highest for non-Hispanic Black mothers in both urban (10.60 infant deaths per 1,000 live births) and rural (10.85). Second highest was infant deaths for American-Indian or Alaska Native mothers; in urban areas, the rate was 5.95 infant deaths per 1,000 live births and in rural, the number was 9.78. 

How CAHs Address Social Needs in their Communities. Critical Access Hospital (CAH) is a designation given to eligible rural hospitals by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  This policy brief summarizes CAH initiatives addressing social needs – access to education, food security, stable housing, employment, and interpersonal violence – that significantly impact health outcomes and health care costs. 

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June of this year, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for providers who are waivered to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) still have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 payment on behalf of each provider who trained to obtain the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine after January 1, 2019.  Approximately $1.5 million in program funding remains available for RHCs and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted. Send questions to DATA2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov. There is ongoing availability of a free online course for waiver eligibility training from the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine and the Providers Clinical Support System.