Federal Office of Rural Health Policy

February 24, 2017

What’s New

Technical Assistance to Help Small and Rural Practices Succeed in the Quality Payment ProgramLate last year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized the details of the Quality Payment Program.  On February 17th, CMS announced the award of up to $100 million to help clinicians in individual or small group practices of 15 clinicians or fewer succeed in the Quality Payment Program.  CMS awarded approximately $20 million to 11 organizations for the first year of a five-year technical assistance program that will provide customized, on-the-ground training and education to eligible clinicians and practices.  CMS intends to invest up to an additional $80 million over the remaining four years.

Rural practices are among those that will receive priority for this technical assistance.  The training and education resources will be available immediately, nationwide, and will be provided at no cost to eligible clinicians and practices.  This technical assistance can help eligible clinicians or groups prepare to report performance data to potentially earn positive payment adjustments (and avoid negative payment adjustments).

CMS also launched a new telephone helpline for clinicians seeking assistance with the Quality Payment Program.  Clinicians may contact the Quality Payment Program by emailing qpp@cms.hhs.govFor more information on the Quality Payment Program, please visit: qpp.cms.gov.

Policy Updates

Questions about Policy Updates? Write to ruralpolicy@hrsa.gov

Comment: Changes for the 2018 Marketplace — March 7.  On February 15, CMS released a proposed rule that would revise provisions in the Benefit and Payment Parameters final rule and Letter to Issuers for the 2018 benefit year to promote market stability in the Health Insurance Marketplace.  Of note for rural providers, CMS proposes to 1) modify enrollment processes (e.g. shorten the open enrollment period for the 2018 benefit year, increase verification for special enrollment periods, revise the guaranteed availability requirement); 2) increase variation in the actuarial values for plan levels; 3) revise network adequacy review processes (e.g. lower the Essential Community Provider standard from 30% to 20%); and 4) revise the timeline for certification of qualified health plans.

New broadband advisory committee. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently published its intent to establish the new federal Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC). Recent research documents a challenge to accessing the internet for nearly 20% of primary care practices in small rural areas. The new BDAC will provide advice and recommendations to the FCC on how to accelerate the deployment of high-speed internet access across the county by removing regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment.

Resources, Learning Events and Technical Assistance

Application Assistance: AHEC Program – Wednesday, February 22nd, 2:00 pm ET.  This is the second of two technical assistance calls to provide assistance hosted by HRSA’s Bureau of Health Workforce.  The Area Health Education Centers Program aims to broaden the distribution of the health workforce to rural and underserved areas.  Funding applications for the AHEC Program are due on March 29. 

Opioid Help for Service Members, Veterans and Families – Wednesday, February 22nd, 2:00 – 3:30 pm ET.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) is working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the U.S. Department of Defense, and other interagency partners to advance strategies to combat the opioid crisis among service members, veterans, and their families (SMVF), who are at greater risk of misusing opioids and unintentionally overdosing, compared with the general population.  This webinar will feature comprehensive evidence-based solutions for practitioners, including medication-assisted treatment and recovery approaches and will also highlight the steps the VA has taken to address one of its greatest challenges – chronic pain and overprescribing.  For questions, please contact Amanda Rózsavölgyi by email at arozsavolgyi@prainc.com.

Controlling Tobacco Use in Rural Areas – Wednesday, February 22nd, 3:30 – 5:00 pm ET.  This free webinar will feature examples from Oklahoma and Mississippi of how state health departments can collaborate with local health departments in rural areas to deliver tobacco control resources and messaging to rural populations, highlighting efforts that combat the use of smokeless tobacco.  The event is hosted by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the National Association of City and County Health Officials.

The IMPACT Act in 2017  – Thursday February 23rd , 1:30 – 3:30 pm ET.  CMS will host a teleconference followed by a question and answer session to discuss what to expect in 2017 for the Improving Medicare Post-Acute Care Transformation Act (IMPACT Act).  Implemented in 2014, the IMPACT Act requires reporting of standardized patient assessment data by Post-Acute Care (PAC) providers, including skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, and long-term care hospitals.

CMS Hosts Webinar on Physician Compare – Thursday, February 23rd, 3:00 pm ET.  CMS’ Physician Compare helps beneficiaries make informed decisions by providing information about physicians and other health care professionals who take part in Medicare. Since its launch in 2010, CMS has continually worked to make Physician Compare function better and improve the information available, adding quality measures on the site. Rural providers participating in quality reporting programs such as the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) Incentive Program may be interested in recent updates and in the 2015 performance scores released in December 2016. Learn more about Physician Compare at the CMS website.  For questions, send an email to PhysicianCompare@Westat.com.

PTAC Webinar – Monday, February 27th, 2:00 pm ET. The Physician-Focused Payment Model Technical Advisory Committee (PTAC) will host a webinar to review the proposal submission process, address common questions that individuals have asked regarding proposals, and highlight the characteristics of strong proposals.  The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) of 2015 created PTAC to make comments and recommendations to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on proposals for physician-focused payment models submitted by individuals and stakeholder entities. If you have any questions regarding this webinar or if you require a TTY line, please email PTAC@hhs.gov with the subject line “Webinar Question”.

Zika 101 – Tuesday, Feb 28th, 1:00 pm ET. Zika virus primarily spreads through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito and outdoor workers may be at higher risk for contracting the virus. Many who are infected with Zika will not have symptoms (fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes) or will only have mild symptoms. Participants in this webinar will learn to recognize the symptoms of Zika, understand testing guidance and methods for protection.

CDC on Rural Mortality and Preventable Deaths – Wednesday, March 1st, 11:00 am ET.  Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the first in its series of rural-focused Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, with research and recommendations on preventing the five leading causes of death in rural areas.  This webinar will feature the lead authors of that report and its companion commentary, to address the research findings and recommendations.  Featured Speakers will include officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics and the Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services as well as the Founder of Trinity Hospital Twin City’s Fit for Life Program.  Also featured will be the best practices and successes of a program funded by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy that works to reduce obesity, one of the major risk factors contributing to a number of the leading causes of death as cited by CDC.

Approaching Deadlines

NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program – February 23
Request for MACPAC Nominations – February 24
AHRQ Seeks Information From Healthcare Delivery Orgs – February 28
Comment: Changes to Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plan – March 3
Direct Decision Support (DDM) Model Letters of Intent – March 5
Shared Decision Support (SDM) Model Letters of Intent – March 5

Black Lung Clinics Program (BLCP) – March 6
Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program –  March 6
Black Lung Center of Excellence (BLCE) – March 6
Request for MedPAC Nominations – March 10
Physician Quality Reporting Deadline Extended – March 13
New Deadline for Hospital Data Submission – March 13

Broadband Service for Rural Communities – March 13
EHR Attestation Deadline Extended – March 13

Community Facilities Program – Ongoing