Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

August 19, 2021

More Federal Support for Rural Telehealth. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced awards of more than $19 million to expand telehealth services in rural areas and underserved communities. In addition to projects that connect rural providers to specialists for complex conditions, the funding continues the work of HRSA-supported Telehealth Resource Centers that provide guidance for implementing telehealth in every part of the country. 

CDC Clinician Outreach: Additional mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines for Immunocompromised PeopleThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued Emergency Use Authorizations for additional doses of vaccines for moderately to severely immunocompromised people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19. Studies indicate that some immunocompromised people who have been vaccinated have a reduced immune response compared to vaccine recipients who are not immunocompromised. Studies have further demonstrated that an additional vaccine dose in some immunocompromised populations may enhance immune response. During this clinician outreach call that took place on August 17, presenters from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discussed the current data and CDC’s guidance on additional COVID-19 doses in immunocompromised people.

“The Critical Role of Monoclonal Antibodies as the COVID-19 Pandemic Continues” Webinar Recording Available. The Health Resources and Services Administration recently held a webinar featuring Michael R. Anderson, MD, a Senior Advisor to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, who discussed how monoclonal antibody therapeutics can help prevent serious illness from COVID-19.  Dr. Anderson shared updates on available COVID-19 therapeutics including efficacy, new administration routes and novel treatments in the pipeline, reimbursement resources, and provider and patient tools and fact sheets. For further questions, contact Dr. Anderson and his team. 

Awards for the Rural Northern Border Region Planning Program. The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy recently announced four awards of approximately $760,000 each for a new program identifying health care challenges in rural counties served by the Northern Border Regional Commission. This eighteen-month project will support planning activities such as, but not limited to, community needs assessments, formal strategic planning processes, and infrastructure development.

New Insights on Maternity Care, Clinical Quality Measures, and Medication-Assisted Treatment. HRSA’s Health Centers Program published new research briefs exploring health center capacity in maternity care deserts, differences in clinical quality measures among Appalachian and non-Appalachian health centers, and the role of health centers in providing medication-assisted treatment. The briefs were developed through the UDS Mapper—a tool that helps evaluate the geographic reach, penetration, and growth of the Health Center Program and its relationship to other federally-linked health resources.

ERS: Rural Poverty Has Distinct Regional and Racial Patterns. A study from the Economic Research Service (ERS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that, out of 310 counties with high and persistent poverty in 2019, 86 percent were rural. Nearly half of rural residents who identify as Black or African American and American Indian or Alaska Native lived in these persistent poverty counties; by comparison, 20 percent of poor Hispanics and 12 percent of rural non-Hispanic Whites resided in those counties. 

History of the Swing Bed.  The feature of the latest Rural Monitor reviews the history of the swing bed program, which provides continued care for patients after injury or illness in a rural hospital. The article describes how post-acute care for rural residents shifted from urban hospitals and aspects of the swing bed program that contributed to its success.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

August 5, 2021

HHS Sends More Aid for SUD and Maternal Care in Rural CommunitiesThe U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) awarded nearly $90 million for programs addressing substance use disorder (SUD), and to improve access to maternal and obstetrics care. 

CDC and OMH Launch Minority Health Social Vulnerability IndexA new interactive tool helps public health officials plan their support in communities before, during, and after a public health emergency.  Social vulnerability refers to a number of factors, including poverty, lack of access to transportation, and crowded housing that may cause excessive human suffering and financial loss in a disaster.  With this map, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) use county-level data from the U.S. Census and other public sources to show percentiles for socioeconomic status, minority status and language, and housing types, among other social variables. The mapping also includes rates for medical vulnerabilities that are prominent in rural areas such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.  According to recent work from the Rural Health Research Gateway, approximately 1 in 5 rural residents identifies as Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian American/Pacific Islander, or mixed race.  The Social Vulnerability Index was launched in July [pdf] by the HHS Office of Minority Health in partnership with the CDC.  Last week, the CDC released data showing a higher percentage of poor health among adults in rural areas

Federal Agencies’ Investment in Rural Cancer Control.  The latest edition of The Rural Monitor gives an in-depth look at a federally funded network of academic, public health, and community partners across the country who collaborate to reduce cancer disparities.  The work began in 2018 when the National Cancer Institute joined with HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Rural Health Council for the Accelerating Rural Cancer Control Research meeting.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

July 22, 201

Rural Health Clinics Receive $100 Million for COVID-19 Vaccine Outreach. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced that the funds will go to more than 1,980 Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) to help residents understand the benefits of vaccination against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.  The funds will be administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) through the Rural Health Clinic Vaccine Confidence Program.

COVID-19 Pubic Health Emergency Renewed. Effective July 20, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has renewed the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration for another 90 days.

NIH Reports on COVID-19 Variants. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that the more that SARS-CoV-2 spreads, the greater the chance that its genetic material will change or mutate, and create new variants or strains.  As it passes from person to person, the virus builds up mutations.  Currently, there are four known mutations, known as variants of concern, with the highly transmissible Delta variant dominant across the country.  The COVID-19 data hub created last year by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services indicates that, as of July 15, new cases across the country were up nearly 70 percent over the previous week; deaths were up 26.3 percent.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 cumulative death rate in non-metropolitan areas has exceeded that of metropolitan areas since December 2020.   

HHS Reviews State Medicaid Telehealth Policies Before and During the Pandemic. While as many as 47 state Medicaid programs were paying for some form of care via telehealth before the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, data show that services increased more than 20-fold between February and April 2020.  Rates declined after April but still remained far above pre-pandemic level.  This issue brief from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) examines how the use changed during the pandemic and identifies selected changes in telehealth policy related to Medicaid. 

CDC: Acceptability of COVID-19 Vaccination Among Adolescents and Parents of Adolescents. In its latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed teens aged 13-17 years and parents of youth aged 12-17 to determine their intent to vaccinate during April 15 – April 23 of this year, prior to vaccine authorization for this age group.  Among parents of unvaccinated adolescents, 55.5 percent reported they would “definitely” or “probably” have their adolescent receive a vaccination.  Among adolescents surveyed, 51.7 percent reported they would “definitely” or “probably” receive a vaccine. 

CDC Provision Drug Overdose Death Counts for 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) present a visualization of reported and predicted provisional counts of deaths due to drug overdose occurring in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  While provisional counts are incomplete due to pending investigation into causes of death, the data show a 29.4 percent increase in overdose deaths for the year.

Request for Information: HHS Seeking Input on Advancing Sensitivity Toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders – due August 17. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) seeks input from Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and AAPI-serving organizations to inform the development of guidance describing best practices for advancing cultural competency, language access, and sensitivity toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the context of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 response.

2020 Transportation Trends. The National Aging and Disability Transportation Center identifies issues affecting the availability of accessible transportation for older adults and people with disabilities.  The report identifies “an innate strength” in rural culture that uses a neighbor helping neighbor strategy, and includes examples of programs underway in rural areas to address transportation needs.

Call for Abstracts for the National Telehealth Research Symposium – August 2. Hosted by the Society for Education and the Advancement for Research in Connected Health (SEARCH), the National Telehealth Research Symposium will showcase connected health efforts and research for telemedicine, telehealth, eHealth, mHealth, and other healthcare technologies.  The symposium will be held virtually on November 8-10, 2021.  SEARCH is seeking submissions for podium presentations and posters in categories that include research, policy, education, and state of the art. 

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

July 15, 2021

HHS Boosts Funding for COVID-19 Response in Rural Areas.  The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced $398 Million for COVID-19 testing and mitigation.  The funds will be distributed by State Offices of Rural Health to 1,540 rural hospitals through the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program.

One Month Left to Enroll in, or Change, Health Insurance Marketplace Coverage.  HHS released a report on current trends and challenges to accessing affordable health care in rural America.  Analysts found that, although uninsured rates have fallen in rural areas, other barriers to care such as geographic distances, infrastructure limitations, and provider shortages contribute to rural health disparities.  The report comes one month before the special enrollment period for qualified individuals and families ends on August 15.  As noted in the HHS brief, 65 percent of the 1.9 million rural uninsured individuals in HealthCare.gov states may be able to find a zero-premium plan on the platform.

NOSORH Accepting 2021 Community Star Nominations.  The National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) seeks nominations until August 2 of individuals, organizations, or consortia making a big difference in the health of rural communities.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

July 8, 2021

HRSA Makes Awards for the Rural Residency Planning and Development Program (RRPD). The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded $6.7 million to support the creation of new accredited and sustainable rural residency programs to expand the physician workforce in rural areas. The RRPD program is a multi-year collaborative initiative between HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) and Bureau of Health Workforce (BHW) to increase physician training opportunities in rural communities and focus on improving access to high quality health care providers. The incoming RRPD cohort will collaborate with the RRPD-Technical Assistance Center throughout the duration of their three-year grant. To learn more about the RRPD-TA center, please visit www.RuralGME.org.

New Information and Webcast on Provider Relief Fund Reporting.  HRSA has released a number of new resources to help recipients of Provider Relief Funds (PRF) comply with reporting requirements. Those who received funds prior to June 30, 2020, can access the portal through September 30 for reporting purposes. There is a fact sheet, a data entry workbook, and a webcast July 8, 2021 at 3 p.m. ET to provide technical assistance.

Rural Health Clinic Vaccine Distribution (RHCVD) Program.  There’s still time to join the RHC COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Program. Medicare-certified RHCs can receive direct shipments of COVID-19 vaccines. Contact RHCVaxDistribution@hrsa.gov for more information. 

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

July 1, 2021

HRSA Payment Program for Buprenorphine-Trained Clinicians.  The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for clinicians who are cleared to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder.  Clinicians working in Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) or Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) who have the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine may be eligible to receive this payment through their employer.  Beginning June 30, 2021, FQHCs and RHCs may apply through HRSA’s Electronic Handbook (EHB), the agency’s online system for managing grants.  HRSA will pay $3,000 for each eligible provider submitted on the application.  Existing HRSA grantees should already have an EHB account; for those organizations that are not a grantee, instructions for creating a new EHB account can be found under “How to Apply” in the headline link above.  There is no deadline to apply, but available funds are limited and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis.  The SUPPORT Act made $6 million available to FQHCs and $2 million available to RHCs under this program.  HRSA will accept applications and process payments until all available funds are exhausted. For any additional questions about this program, please contact Data2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov.

HHS Encourages Enrollment in Marketplace Health Insurance CoverageAs part of the Rural Week of Action, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is encouraging qualified individuals and families to enroll in or change Health Insurance Marketplace plans through August 15, 2021 with the 2021 Special Enrollment Period for COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.  More people may qualify for Marketplace savings that will lower the cost of premiums.  It is estimated that 65 percent of uninsured rural adults could have access to a health plan with $0 premium on healthcare.gov.  Enter your zip code to find local help or call the Marketplace Call Center.

HHS Awards Grants for Health Literacy.  The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) awarded funds to local governments in 73 communities as part of an effort to improve the way information is received and understood by racial and ethnic minorities, including those in rural communities.  The two-year projects will also focus on other populations considered vulnerable for misperceptions about COVID-19 and other information about public health.

NIH Studies Mobile Clinics for Integrated HIV, SUD Treatment.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a new clinical trial to determine whether using mobile clinics to treat both HIV and substance use disorder (SUD) at the same time can improve outcomes among individuals who inject drugs. 

USDA Seeks Public Input on Equity, Racial Justice in Rural Communities – July 15.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is requesting comments – from short feedback on a specific USDA program up to 20 pages of broader research – to inform its Racial Equity Commission that will be launched later this year. 

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

June 24, 2021

HRSA Makes Awards for the Rural Health Network Development Planning Program.  The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded $1.9 million to 20 awardees for this one-year, community-driven program designed to assist in the planning and development of an integrated health care network at the local level. By emphasizing the role of networks, the program creates a platform for both rural and urban medical care providers, social service providers, and community organizations to coalesce key elements of a health care delivery system for the purpose of improving local capacity and coordination of care in rural communities. Administered by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) at HRSA, the Network Planning program is an opportunity for health care providers to implement new and innovative approaches to care that may in turn serve as a model for other rural communities. The incoming cohort of Network Planning grantees have projects that focus on care coordination, health information technology/data analytics, behavioral health (including mental health and substance use disorder), elder care, and COVID-19. Visit the Rural Health Information Hub online to learn more about successful program models and evidence-based toolkits that have come from the work of FORHP-funded projects.  

An Update on COPDThe rural-focused publication, The Rural Monitor, provides details on recent efforts to close the rural-urban disparity gap for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that disparity in 2017; later that year, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute launched the COPD National Action Plan. A new website from the Dorney-Koppel Foundation provides testimonials from those affected by the disease, as well as links to resources.

UPDATED: CARES Act Provider Relief Fund Frequently Asked Questions.  Includes information on terms and conditions, attestation, general and targeted distributions, and how to report capital equipment purchases. Reporting and Auditing requirements FAQs were updated on June 11.

AHRQ: COVID-Related Hospitalizations in 13 States.  The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) examines the differences in month-to-month hospitalizations by patient location (metropolitan to rural) from April to September 2020.

NACo: Challenges and Opportunities for Rural Counties Post-COVID.  The National Association of Counties (NACo) presents a video recording of testimony from rural healthcare and economic organizations to the U.S. House Agriculture Committee. Topics include rural economic concerns following COVID-19, county-level responses to the pandemic, rural hospitals and workforce issues, broadband access, and federal programs serving rural communities. Transcripts from this hearing are available on the congressional website.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcement

June 17, 2021

Customizable COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Toolkit for Rural Communities. This toolkit from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy- (FORHP) supported National Rural Health Resource Center helps rural community- and faith-based organizations, businesses, public health, schools, and health care organizations with internal and external COVID-19 vaccine communication materials. Organizations have easy access to customizable communication templates that include print ads, poster, brochure, social media posts, and an online resource guide.

HHS Awards $125 Million in Workforce Grants for Vaccination Efforts. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) awarded the first of two rounds of funding to bring health and social service workers to underserved communities. The funding will help community-based organizations hire and mobilize outreach workers, community health workers, social support specialists and others to help increase public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. 

New Study: Gap in Rural-Urban Death Rates Tripled Over Last 20 Years. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital used publicly available data for the years 1999 to 2019 and found an overall increase of more than 12 percent in age-adjusted mortality rates (AAMR) for rural residents aged 25 to 64 years. While death rates fell among Black individuals, this group had greater AAMRs than all other racial/ethnic groups across both rural and urban environments. The study, published last week in JAMA, was conducted before the outbreak of COVID-19; authors note the pandemic may have since exacerbated the rural-urban divide they observed.

SAMHSA Guide to Telehealth for the Treatment of Serious Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorder. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sought input from federal, state, and non-governmental experts for this guide to best practices.

New Reporting Requirements and Timeline for Provider Relief Fund (PRF). The Health Resources and Services Administration released revised reporting requirements for recipients of PRF funding. These revisions mean more flexibility for providers, and include expanding the amount of time providers will have to report information, reducing burdens for smaller providers, and extending key deadlines for spending PRF payments for those providers who received payments after June 30, 2020. The revised reporting requirements are applicable to providers who received one or more payments exceeding, in the aggregate, $10,000 during a single Payment Received Period. Providers are encouraged to register in the Reporting Portal before it opens with full reporting functionality on July 1. Learn more about the PRF reporting requirements.

AHRQ Social Determinants of Health Database. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) curated data from publicly available sources linked to county and zip code. The five key SDOH variables are social context (e.g., age, race/ethnicity, veteran status), economic context (e.g., income, unemployment rate), education, physical infrastructure (e.g, housing, crime, transportation), and healthcare context (e.g., health insurance).

AAMC Reports on Physician Supply and Demand. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects the future supply of active physicians, including projected demand for primary care or non-primary care specialties by urban or rural location. 

FORHP Announcements

May 20, 2021

CDC: Disparities in COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage Between Urban and Rural Counties. In the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC collected data on vaccine doses administered across the rural-urban continuum and found that coverage was lower overall, among all age groups, and among men and women in rural compared with urban counties.

GAO on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity for Rural Areas. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) researches Federal government operations and reports fact-based, non-partisan information. This report notes that data collected for federal maternal health programs isn’t always separated and analyzed for rural and underserved areas, and provides an update on recommendations GAO made to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

CRS Insight on 5G Fund for Rural America. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides objective policy and legal analysis to committees and members of the U.S. House and Senate. This brief describes legislation and activity carried out by the Federal Communications Commission to provide up to $8 billion over the next 10 years to bring voice and broadband service to rural areas.

RHPTP Eligible Learning Collaborative Series

May 17, 2021

Rural Healthcare Provider Transition Project (RHPTP) Learning Collaborative Series

Click here to register for all or some of the webinars below!

A four-part learning collaborative series has been built to promote the assessment of your organizations’ strengths and weaknesses in preparing for the transition to value-based care (VBC). Through education and group discussion, you will gain a better understanding of a variety of VBC topics that help strengthen your organization’s foundation while becoming effective participants in a health system focused on value.

Topic and Speakers:

LC1: Self-Assessment for Transition Planning: How ready is your organization for value-based care?

  • Speakers: Terry Hill and Rhonda Barcus, The Center
  • Date and Time: Monday, May 24, 2021 @ 12:00/NOON – 1:00 PM CST
  • LC2: Basics of Value-Based Care and Payment
  • Speaker: Jennifer Lundblad, Stratis Health
  • Date and Time: Monday, June 28, 2021 @ 12:00/NOON – 1:00 PM CST
  • LC3: Leadership Commitment to Building Population Health
  • Speaker: Dr. Alana Knudson, NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis
  • Date and Time: Monday, July 26, 2021 @ 12:00/NOON – 1:00 PM CST
  • LC4: Resiliency
  • Speakers: Dr. Jane Pederson and Betsy Jeppesen, Stratis Health
  • Date and Time: Monday, August 30, 2021 @ 12:00/NOON – 1:00 PM CST