Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

March 11, 2021

HHS to Invest $250 Million for COVID-19 Response in Underserved Communities. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced a community-level program for vulnerable populations, including those in rural areas, and racial and ethnic minorities. The new initiative – Advancing Health Literacy to Enhance Equitable Community Responses to COVID-19 – is expected to fund approximately 30 projects in urban communities and 43 projects in rural communities (as defined by the Rural Health Grants Eligibility Analyzer) for two years to encourage COVID-19 safety and vaccination. Applications are due on April 20th. Eligibility is limited to local municipalities, with consideration given for localities with high social vulnerability.

Deadline Extended for CMS Rural Transformation Project. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has extended the application due date for its new, rural-focused Community Health Access and Rural Transformation (CHART) Model Community Transformation Track to May 11. Optional Letters of Intent are due April 13. This voluntary payment model, the first of its kind from the CMS Innovation Center, will test whether upfront investments, predictable capitated payments, and operational and regulatory flexibilities will enable rural health care providers to improve access to care while reducing health care costs. Selected participants will have 15 months to collaborate with local partners and develop a Community Transformation Plan.

AHRQ Data Request: Improving Rural Health Through Telehealth-Guided Provider-to-Provider Communication. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is seeking published and unpublished scientific information to inform their review of this subject. Key questions in the review include those about the effectiveness of provider-to-provider telehealth and about effective implementation strategies. Submit information to AHRQ’s Evidence-Based Practice Centers Program on or before April 1.

ERS on COVID-19 and Rural America. The Economic Research Service (ERS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture analyzes county-level data on the prevalence of COVID-19 and local employment rates. A second report takes a closer look at the impact on counties where meatpacking accounts for more than 20 percent of employment.

CRS on Broadband Provisions passed by Congress. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides objective policy and legal analysis to committees and members of the U.S. House and Senate. This report provides information on each federal program included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, designed to increase broadband availability for underserved areas of the United States.

ONC Reports on Interoperability of Electronic Health Records. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) published a data brief examining rates of interoperability by hospital size, type, method of interoperability, and suburban-urban status.

Share Your Thoughts and Opinions on Health – Respond by March 15. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is seeking English-speaking people living in rural areas to participate in virtual discussions about health. The purpose of these discussions is to obtain consumer feedback on newly developed health materials. HRSA is open to speaking with individuals from diverse backgrounds. Sessions will be held in March and May via Zoom and will last approximately 90 minutes. All who participate will receive monetary token of appreciation. If you or someone you know may be interested, please have them contact Heidi.Palacios@SchlesingerGroup.com or call (972) 503-3100 x- 407. Feedback from rural populations will help HRSA create easy to understand health materials for everyone.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: March 4, 2021

Resources from CDC National Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a three-day event to promote the most effective strategies for building confidence and increasing access to the vaccine nationwide. Resources, including recordings of the forum’s sessions and a toolkit for community outreach, are now available. Learn more about the role of the Health Resources and Services Administration in the effort, including distribution of vaccines to 250 health centers nationwide.

New Telebehavioral Health Care Best Practice Guide. Telehealth.HHS.gov has added a new best practice guide to help mental health providers navigate changes to telehealth policy due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. This official website from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services includes resources for getting started, developing a strategy, billing, preparing patients, and more.

ERS on Disparities in Educational Attainment in Rural America. The Economic Research Service (ERS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that, among all rural residents aged 25 years or older, the percentage who had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher rose from 15 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2019. Ethnic disparities persist in what is considered a leading social determinant of health, with Whites completing high school and bachelor’s degrees at much higher rates than those who are Black, American Indian, or Hispanic.

CDC on Changes in Suicide Rates. In its latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention report that more than 47,000 deaths were attributed to suicide in 2019. For the first time in a decade, the overall suicide rate from 2018 to 2019 declined. The lowest rate was found in large central metropolitan areas, and the highest in nonmetropolitan areas. Firearms were the most common mechanism of suicide in all county urbanization levels. 

Share Your Thoughts and Opinions on Health – Respond by March 15. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is seeking English-speaking people living in rural areas to participate in virtual discussions about health. The purpose of these discussions is to obtain consumer feedback on newly developed health materials. HRSA is open to speaking with individuals from diverse backgrounds. Sessions will be held in March and May via Zoom and will last approximately 90 minutes. All who participate will receive monetary token of appreciation. If you or someone you know may be interested, please have them contact Heidi.Palacios@SchlesingerGroup.com or call (972) 503-3100 x- 407. Feedback from rural populations will help HRSA create easy to understand health materials for everyone.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

February 18, 2021

CDC National Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine – February 22-24, 2021. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will hold a virtual event over three days to promote the most effective strategies for building confidence and increasing access to the vaccine nationwide. Community health stakeholders including pharmacies, labor associations, faith-based organizations, and academic institutions are encouraged to attend and hear from leaders at every level of government and across sectors.

Extended Public Comment Period for FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to seek public comment on the metrics that should be used to evaluate applications for Round 2 of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program and how the FCC should treat applications filed during initial funding rounds. In January 2021, the FCC announced an additional $250 million for the program that was established in April 2020 and set a deadline of January 19 for comments. That deadline has been lifted and the FCC will continue to accept comments at any time. 

CDC: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Pandemic-Related Stress.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that Hispanic adults reported a higher prevalence of symptoms of depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Estimates of self-reported suicidal thoughts/ideation among Hispanic persons (22.9%) were four times those among non-Hispanic Black (Black) persons (5.2%) and White persons (5.3%) and approximately twice those of multiracial and non-Hispanic persons of other races/ethnicities (8.9%).

CDC: Trends in Drug and Synthetic Opioid Overdose Deaths. In the February 12, 2021, issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report an increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, cocaine, and psychostimulants. During the period studied, 2013 – 2019, synthetic opioid deaths largely consisted of illicitly manufactured fentanyl. In 2019, a total of 70,630 drug overdose deaths occurred, an increase of 4.3 percent over deaths in 2018.

Report: Emergency Medical Services Personnel (EMS) as Vaccinators. The National Association of State EMS Officials reports on state-level policy that allows paramedics and other first-responders to administer vaccines.

NGA: Supporting a Trained Direct Care Workforce During and After the Pandemic. The National Governor’s Association (NGA) reports on waivers issued by states and by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to address staffing challenges during the public health emergency. The NGA explains these, including temporary adjustments to training requirements, and presents strategies for retaining this workforce when the waivers expire.

MACPAC: Medicaid’s Role in Health Care for AI/AN. The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) is a nonpartisan agency in the legislative branch that analyzes policy and makes recommendations to federal and state-level policymakers. In this report, MACPAC provides an overview of the federal government’s role in providing health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), including the structure of the Indian Health Service and the special Medicaid rules and protections that apply to AI/AN beneficiaries and Indian health providers.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

February 4, 2021

HHS: Special Enrollment Period for Health Coverage.  In response to the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced a special period for enrollment of qualified individuals and families, February 15 through May 15, in those states served by the HealthCare.gov platform. Some states run their own websites for enrollment and may or may not make a similar offer. Enter your zip code to find local help

GAO on Federal Response to the Pandemic.  The January report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) provides an overview of actions taken and offers 13 additional recommendations that include improving the medical supply chain through the Strategic National Stockpile, and better service to older adults in rural areas through the Older Americans Act.

NIH: Methamphetamine Overdose Deaths Rise Sharply Nationwide.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that, from 2011-2018, deaths more than quadrupled among non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaska Natives from 4.5 to 20.9 per 100,000 people. The U.S. average for people aged 25 – 54 increased from 1.3 to 7.3 per 100,000 people during that time period. 

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

January 28, 2021

New National Strategy for COVID-19 Response. The White House released a plan for the pandemic that includes a campaign for vaccination, setting standards for controlling the spread of the virus, and enacting the Defense Production Act to extend emergency relief.

GAO Report on Rural Hospital Closures. The latest report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) addresses the effects of hospital closures on residents in rural areas. Among other objectives, the report examines how closures affected the number of health care providers, and the distance residents traveled for health care services. 

NIH Assessment of COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) published results of a study to determine what Americans think about getting immunized with the COVID-19 vaccine. Of a group of 1,878 participants, the greatest reluctance to get a vaccine was found among African-Americans (34%), Hispanics (29%), rural dwellers (29%), and those who had children at home (25%).

ACF Report on Child Maltreatment. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) reports on rates of children who are victims of neglect or abuse using data collected from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.  In 2018, the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services recommended that federal policy include a strategy for awareness, research, and programs to address the health consequences of Adverse Childhood Experiences for rural, tribal, and other at-risk populations.  

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

January 22, 2021

Comments Requested:  Proposed Changes to OMB Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) Delineations – March 20.  The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) seeks public input on their recommendations for changing the delineations for metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, including whether the minimum urban area threshold population to qualify as an MSA should increase from 50,000 to 100,000.  The OMB MSA delineations are used for a variety of purposes including identifying rural populations for research, Medicare reimbursement policies and allocation of Federal program resources.

HHS: Viral Hepatitis National Strategic Plan.  The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) reports that, despite effective vaccines and treatment, “the nation faces unprecedented hepatitis A outbreaks, progress on preventing hepatitis B has stalled, and hepatitis C rates nearly tripled from 2011 to 2018.”  The report identifies higher rates of substance use disorder, injection drug use, and homelessness as factors in the increase. 

RAND: Evidence-Based Recommendations for Transforming the U.S. Mental Health System.  The RAND Corporation is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that researches and analyzes public policy.  In this report, RAND makes frequent reference to rural needs among 15 policy recommendations for reimbursement, workforce development, and telehealth services, among other topics. 

 

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

January 14, 2021

HRSA Evidence-Based Telehealth Grant Program – Applications due April 2.  The Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) will be making up to 14 new awards through the Evidence Based Telehealth Network Grant Program.  Each awardee will receive up to $350,000 annually.  The goals of this program are to demonstrate how health care systems can increase access to health care services utilizing Direct to Consumer Telehealth technologies and to conduct evaluations of those efforts to establish an evidence base for assessing the effectiveness of Direct to Consumer telehealth care for patients, providers, and payers.  Eligible applicants are domestic public or private, non-profit or for-profit entities with demonstrated experience utilizing telehealth technologies to serve rural underserved populations.

HHS Invests $8 Million to Address Gaps in Rural Telehealth.  On Monday, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) made awards for the Telehealth Broadband Pilot, a new program to assess the broadband capacity available to rural communities.

Nationwide Study Shows Rise in Opioid Affected Births.  A new study conducted by researchers at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services indicates that mothers with opioid-related diagnoses documented at delivery increased by 131 percent from 2010 to 2017.  Rural, White, and Medicaid populations continue to have the highest rates of maternal opioid-related diagnoses and neonatal abstinence syndrome.

HHS Renews Public Health Emergency. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services renewed the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration for an additional 90 days, effective January 21, 2021. 

Comments Requested: FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program – January 19. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) received $249.95 million in new appropriations to fund a second round of the Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program.  This program started last spring with a $200M appropriation in the CARES Act.  The Commission seeks public comment by Tuesday, January 19 on planning Round 2, such as priorities and metrics for awardee selection and how to streamline selection administration.  Details of the solicitation and comment filing process are in the FCC’s official request for information

RAND: How COVID-19 Has Affected Family Caregiving.  The RAND Corporation is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that researches and analyzes public policy.  In this report, RAND makes the case for integrating family caregivers into the health care team and highlights several solutions for accomplishing this goal.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

January 12, 2021

The Rural Communities Opioid Response Program – Psychostimulant Support (RCORP-PS) – Application Deadline April 12

The Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) will be making approximately 15 awards of up to $500,000 each to rural communities through the new RCORP – Psychostimulant Support grant program. The goal of this new effort is to strengthen and expand prevention, treatment, and recovery services for rural individuals who misuse psychostimulants, and to enhance their ability to access treatment and move towards recovery over a three-year project timeline.

While the focus of the RCORP initiative up to now has been primarily on opioid use disorder (OUD), there is an overlap between OUD and psychostimulant misuse. For the purposes of this funding opportunity, psychostimulants include methamphetamine and other illegal drugs, such as cocaine and the synthetic amphetamine, Ecstasy, as well as prescription stimulants for conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression. All domestic public and private entities, nonprofit and for-profit, are eligible to apply and applicants must be part of a consortium of at least three other separately-owned entities. Additionally, all services provided by the grant must exclusively occur in HRSA-designated rural areas. See Section III.1 of this notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) for complete eligibility information.

Applicants are encouraged to identify means of bridging the gap between social determinants of health and other systemic issues that could contribute to achieving equity in substance use disorder (SUD) and OUD prevention, treatment, and recovery services. Applicants are also encouraged to leverage the National Health Service Corps Rural Community Loan Repayment Program to support the recruitment and retention of eligible providers from the SUD workforce.

FORHP will hold a webinar for applicants on Thursday, February 25, 2021 from 12:30 – 1:30 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). For questions about the program, email ruralopioidresponse@hrsa.gov; contact aoladele@hrsa.gov with fiscal/budget-related questions.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

January 7, 2021

COVID-19 Taking Heavy Toll on Farmers’ Mental Health. The American Farm Bureau released a report showing that two in three farmers surveyed say that the pandemic has impacted their mental health. Farmers and farmworkers were 10% more likely than rural adults as a whole to have experienced feeling nervous, anxious or on edge during the pandemic (65% vs. 55%). Two-thirds of rural adults ages 18-44 say they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they were a year ago.

CDC Recommended Strategies for Initial COVID-19 Vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) produced a guide intended to assist state, tribal, local, or territorial immunization programs with planning for the first three phases of vaccination: Phase 1a, which includes healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities; Phase 1b, frontline essential workers and individuals aged 75 years and older; and Phase 1c, other essential workers, persons 65-74 years of age, and individuals 16-64 years of age with underlying medical conditions.

Share Your Thoughts and Opinions on Health – Respond by January 11. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is seeking English-speaking individuals to participate in upcoming virtual discussions about health from any of the following groups: 1) parents or guardians of children ages 6 months to 3½ years; 2) people with HIV; 3) people living in rural areas; 4) HRSA health center patients; 5) adults ages 45 years and older. Patient feedback will help HRSA create easy to understand health materials for everyone. We’ll hold 90-minute Zoom sessions in January, March, and May. Participants will receive monetary payment. If you or someone you know who may be interested, please have them email Heidi Palacios or call (972) 503-3100 x407.

AHRQ Hospital Utilization Trends. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) provides a series of data files on monthly hospital utilization. The tables include state-by-state data on hospitalizations due to COVID-19, influenza, and other respiratory conditions; normal newborns and deliveries; non-elective stays admitted through emergency departments; and elective inpatient stays. 

National Rural Health Day Events Archive. Where available, webinar recordings, PowerPoint slides, and transcripts for 2020 National Rural Health Day programming can now be accessed on the National Rural Health Day website. All links are free and accessible to the public. Event topics range from telehealth and COVID-19 testing to social determinants of health and substance use disorder. Participating organizations included the Department of Health and Human Service entities Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services, the National Association of Rural Health Clinics, and the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

December 17, 2020

HHS Report: Strengthening the Entry-Level Health Care Workforce. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) commissioned an in-depth look at the challenges and opportunities for this segment of the health care workforce that includes community health workers, behavioral health peer support, and home health aides. Forecasting a shortage across professions, the report identifies entry-level positions as one option for expanding community-level capacity while also increasing employment opportunities.

CMS:  Rural-Urban Disparities in Health Care in Medicare. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) uses two sources of information in this summary of the quality of care received by Medicare beneficiaries. The first source is the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) and its survey on health care experiences (e.g., ease of getting needed care, how well providers communicate, etc.). The second is the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) with information collected from medical records and administrative data on the technical quality of care for a variety of medical issues, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic lung disease.